Robert Boyle, born 1627, described the relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas. Boyle’s law is used to calculate the volume and pressure of internal-combustion engines and steam engines.
Robert Boyle (1627–1691) was born at Lismore Castle, Munster, Ireland, the 14th child of the Earl of Cork. As a young man of means, he was tutored at home and on the Continent. He spent the later years of the English Civil Wars at Oxford, reading and experimenting with his assistants and colleagues. This group was committed to the New Philosophy, which valued observation and experiment at least as much as logical thinking in formulating accurate scientific understanding. At the time of the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, Boyle played a key role in founding the Royal Society to nurture this new view of science.
Although Boyle’s chief scientific interest was chemistry, his first published scientific work, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and Its Effects (1660), concerned the physical nature of air, as displayed in a brilliant series of experiments in which he used an air pump to create a vacuum. The second edition of this work, published in 1662, delineated the quantitative relationship that Boyle derived from experimental values, later known as “Boyle’s law”: that the volume of a gas varies inversely with pressure.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical Heritage Foundation