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The Chemical History of a Candle

Michael Faraday

Book Overview: 

The Chemical History of a Candle is a series of 6 lectures on chemistry. Taught by Michael Faraday - a chemist and physist, and regarded as the best experimentalist in the history of science - it is probably the most famous of the Christmas Lectures of the Royal Society. Taking the everyday burning of a candle as a starting point, Faraday spans the arc from combustion and its products, via the components of water and air (oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon), back to the type of combustion that happens in the human body when we breathe. The final lecture "On Platinum" describes a then new method to produce large quantities of Platinum.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .but we see what happens to a candle when it is burnt in a pure and proper state of air. At the time when I shewed you this charring by the ring of flame on the one side of the paper, I might have also shewn you, by turning to the other side, that the burning of a candle produces the same kind of soot—charcoal or carbon.

But, before I shew that, let me explain to you—as it is quite necessary for our purpose—that, though I take a candle and give you, as the general result, its combustion in the form of a flame, we must see whether combustion is always in this condition, or whether there are other conditions of flame; and we shall soon discover that there are, and that they are most important to us. I think, perhaps, the best illustration of such a point to us, as juveniles, is to shew the result of strong contrast. Here is a little gunpowder. You know that gunpowder burns with flame—we may fairly call it flame. It contains carbo. . . Read More