TV's Prof Cox is admirer of Davy
PENZANCE'S famous chemist and inventor Sir Humphry Davy has come in for high praise from top TV scientist Professor Brian Cox in a BBC TV programme.
In his new three-part series Science Britannica the particle physicist acted as a guide through the history of Britain's contribution to the development of science.
In doing so he paid a glowing tribute to the impact Humphry Davy made as a young scientist at the turn of the 19th century.
"In 1802, at the Royal Institution, he was the star attraction as the Institution's new Professor of Chemistry at the unlikely age of 23," said Professor Cox. "He was good- looking, charismatic and, many thought, arrogant; he thought he was a genius and he was probably right.
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"He was also a passionate communicator of science – a genuine star."
In the programme, Professor Cox re-enacts some of the experiments that Humphry Davy would carry out in front of the packed audiences who would cram into the Royal Institution's lecture theatre to hear him speak.
"His spectacular demonstrations had all the excitement of a magic show but it was better than magic – it was chemistry," Professor Cox said.
Local historian Peter Waverly said Brian Cox's opinion of Humphry Davy confirmed what many people in West Cornwall knew and called for his picture to appear on the nation's bank notes in the same way that his disciple Michael Faraday's had done.
"Those who appreciate what Davy did have always known his genius, but Brian Cox was one of the first to recognise and state this on our public media because until now Humphry Davy has never, ever been given the public recognition he deserves," he said. "It is long overdue that Humphry Davy appeared on our currency in recognition of the phenomenal work he did in the advancement of science."
Davy was born in 1778, the son of a woodcarver. His inventions included the Davy lamp of 1815, which allowed miners to work safely in the presence of flammable gases, and as a pioneer of electrolysis, using the newly invented voltaic pile, he discovered the elements of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, boron and barium. His work on the sheathing of ships' hulls with metal is said to have been inspired by youthful observation of the decay of Hayle's sluice gates due to the electrochemical action of sea water on copper and iron. He died in Geneva in 1829, of heart disease.
Episode 1 of Science Britannica can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.