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Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air

Joseph Priestley

Book Overview: 

Joseph Priestley, FRS was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist who published over 150 works. In “Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air,” he reviews experiments with gases. A common theme in this work is measuring the volumes of gases held in glass tubes, and their increase or decrease when exposed to other substances. He also tests the effects of gases on mice, plants and insects.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .a glass tube made red-hot, and found that a candle would burn in it perfectly well. Also, rarefaction by the air-pump does not injure air in the least degree.

Though this experiment failed, I have been so happy, as by accident to have hit upon a method of restoring air, which has been injured by the burning of candles, and to have discovered at least one of the restoratives which nature employs for this purpose. It is vegetation. This restoration of vitiated air, I conjecture, is[Pg 50] effected by plants imbibing the phlogistic matter with which it is overloaded by the burning of inflammable bodies. But whether there be any foundation for this conjecture or not, the fact is, I think, indisputable. I shall introduce the account of my experiments on this subject, by reciting some of the observations which I made on the growing of plants in confined air, which led to this discovery.

One might have imagined that, since common air is necessary to vegetable. . . Read More