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Sir Humphry Davy's Laughter Interesting Facts

Updated on August 18, 2014
Sir Humprhy Davy in his laboratory
Sir Humprhy Davy in his laboratory | Source

One of the great men of science of the eighteenth century was Humphry Davy (1778-1829). By the time he was twenty, Davy had become a laboratory assistant at Dr. Beddoes' Pneumatic Institution, a sort of hospital founded for the purpose of treating illness by using new gases which the chemists were discovering in that period.

Here Davy experimented with a very peculiar gas called nitrous oxide. When people inhaled this gas, it exhilarated them, and made them do all sorts of odd things. Often they broke into laughter and so the gas came to be called "laughing gas."

Since this gas also made people unconscious and insensible to pain -- it was used as an anesthetic to relieve pain in minor surgery.

Sir Humphry Davy Baronet
Sir Humphry Davy Baronet | Source

While he was at this institution, Davy performed an experiment which brought his work to the attention of Count Rumford. Davy devised an apparatus which rubbed two pieces of ice together until enough heat was given off to melt the ice.

Rumford liked this experiment since it supported his ideas, for if ice is water without heat-fluid '9as people then believed) -- how could rubbing two pieces of ice cause them to give off a substance which they do not contain? Therefore heat must be a motion in the ice, rather than a "caloric" fluid.

In 1801, Rumford offered Davy the post as director of the chemistry laboratory at the Royal Institution.

Here Davy lectured to the public on science. His lectures were a tremendous success. All in all, Davy did his work so well that his name and his discoveries became known far and wide.

Humphry Davy
Humphry Davy | Source

Although Davy was a chemist, the amazing electrical discoveries of the day interested him strongly.

Volta had made a battery which produced electricity. The English scientists Nicholson and Carlisle put the wires leading from a voltaic battery into water and noticed bubbles arising near the wires.

The bubbles turned out to be pure oxygen and pure hydrogen. In other words, the electric current had decomposed the water into the two gases of which it was made.

Would the same thing happen if one put the electric wires into other substances?

Davey tried. In 1807 he put the wires from his battery into melted potash, and found that "small globules having a high metallic luster similar in visible character to quick-silver appeared."

These small globules were actually pure metallic potassium never before seen by man. Using this same method of electrolysis, Davy discovered a host of other new metals, sodium, calcium, magnesium, strontium, barium -- all newcomers to man's knowledge in the field of chemical elements.

One Of Humphry Davy's Experiments

Davy Safety Lamp for miners
Davy Safety Lamp for miners | Source

Davy Invents The Safety Lamp

Davy's fame became still greater, and in 1812 he was knighted. Soon thereafter he was asked to solve a problem of great importance to England.

Hundreds of miners were being killed yearly by explosions in the coal mines. These explosions were caused by the fact that a gas known as coal damp (methane) accumulated in pockets in the mines. Since the miners carried oil lamps for lighting their work, the flame of a lamp was liable to set off a violent explosions whenever a miner stepped into a glass pocket.

Could Sir Humphry Davy solve the problem and prevent these explosions?

In 1815 he came up with a simple solution. He invented a safety lamp for miners. Instead of using an ordinary glass chimney open at the top, Davy enclosed the flame of the lamp within a wire cage.

When you first think of it, there seems to be plenty of openings in such a screen through which a flame could get at the coal-gas. However, this is not really so. The mesh is such a good conductor of heat that it conducts the heat away from the flame before the flame can get out of the lamp to reach the gas. Thus, explosions from this cause seldom happen.


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    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 

      6 years ago from Inverbervie, Scotland

      I don't think it's fair to talk about Davy's lamp without mentioning George Stephenson - he also invented a safety lamp (the Geordie lamp) that was used in north east mines, and crucially, he invented it before Davy got around to it. Just sayin'...

    • profile image

      shiva, rajdeep singh and samreen kour from jammu and kashmir, india 

      10 years ago

      Thanks for the great information and further i will be taking davy lamp every where i go... and i will make people laugh by using nitro-oxide gas...........may god provide you peace HUMPHRY DAVY.........

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      10 years ago from United States

      Thanks Denise Handlon! I was offline for a number of weeks when your kind comment arrived.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed the useful info on your hub. I happened to connect with it b/c prior to two days ago when I created my hub: 13 Reasons to Hail the number 13, I had not heard of Sir Humphrys...and, I was not aware that he was part of the laughing gas... Just wanted to let you know about the hub link to mine. Thanks. :)

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      11 years ago from United States

      Thanks salt!

    • salt profile image


      11 years ago from australia

      Lovely hub and thanks, I love a bit of history and a bit of a giggle.. not too sure about the gas though

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      11 years ago from United States

      Thanks Aya! I'd rather just skip the dentist. LOL

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      11 years ago from The Ozarks

      Jerilee, you hooked me with that title! Ginn is right. It might be nice to bottle laughter as a cure. Nevertheless, I avoid laughing gas at the dentist's office. I'd rather have a local anesthetic.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      11 years ago from United States

      Thanks Hello, hello!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      11 years ago from London, UK

      Another interesting and informative hub. I enjoyed every bit of it. Thank you

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      11 years ago from United States

      Thanks Ginn Navarre! I'm with you mom -- what the world needs now is more laughter, even without the gas.

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 

      11 years ago

      Very informative as usual. Yet on the lighter side---a little of that "laughing-gas" might be a better choice of drugs that a lot of people are using in today's world. ha ha.

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      11 years ago from United States

      Thanks Paraglider! I didn't know about the other feature. Canaries were still used here in the mines during my great-grandfathers' time in Colorado.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 

      11 years ago from Worcester, UK

      Yes, he was one of the great all-rounders of science. The other feature of the safety lamp was that while the temperature outside the gauze was below the methane flash point, methane that penetrated the gauze caused the lamp to flare, warning that the explosive gas was present. This saved countless lives. Before, they used to use caged canaries which are sensitive to methane gas. If the canary died, it was time to back off!


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