We have all done litmus tests at school. How many of us know that Robert Boyle is the inventor of the litmus test. Considered to be the founder of modern chemistry, Robert Boyle was a scientist of the 17th century. Boyle is remembered for his law about the relationship between pressure and volume of gasses.
Born in Ireland, Robert Boyle was the seventh son of Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork. At an early age, Boyle studied languages like Latin, Greek and French. When he was just eight years old Boyle’s mother died, and his father decided to send him to Eton College in England. After studying for three years in Eton he joined a French tutor and travelled abroad to Italy. Here he studied the works of Galileo, who influenced him to study astronomy and mechanics. During the English Civil war, Boyle was in Oxford spending his time in experimentation and reading.
Experiments on air
In 1655 Boyle moved to Oxford. Here he hired Robert Hooke as an assistant and then both of them worked on their vacuum chamber air pump, which was an improvement on Otto von Guericke’s design. He even began many experiments related to air. In 1675, Boyle proposed his first law: the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to its pressure.
A new-look at experimentation
Unlike most scientists of the day, Boyle did not seek to discover new things by arguing matters logically. Instead he was interested in making observations and drawing conclusions based on these. It was Boyle who started the practice of conducting controlled experiments. He used to publish his experiments while noting down his practices and the various apparatus that he used.
Boyle’s definition of an element is now commonly accepted. He stated that an element consists of smaller particles of various sizes and these particles could not be broken up in any way. He is also responsible for introducing litmus tests used by us in laboratories. This test is now universally used to distinguish an acid from a base. Boyle introduced several standards in chemistry. In 1660, Boyle and 11 other colleagues formed the Royal Society in London, which was dedicated to discussing scientific topics.