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William Hyde Wollaston

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William Hyde Wollaston (1766–1828) chemist, physicist, and physiologist

1766 born on 6 August at East Dereham vicarage, Norfolk, the third child of Francis Wollaston (1731–1815) and his wife, Althea (1739–1798) daughter of John Hyde, of London.

Educated at a private school in Lewisham and at Charterhouse School (1774–8),

1782 Entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied medicine, astronomy, chemistry and botany. His elder brother, Francis John Hyde Wollaston, was a lecturer in mathematics.

While at Cambridge, Wollaston became interested in platinum through his friendship with the chemist Smithson Tennant.

1788 W H Wollaston's father, Rev Francis Wollaston, wanted a transit circle made to his own design, and tried without success to have it made by Jesse Ramsden and then Edward Troughton. c.1791 William Cary was recommended to Wollaston, and he produced the instrument and installed it at Rev. Wollaston's home in Chislehurst.[1]

1789 Wollaston left Cambridge and practised medicine

1793 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society

1801 Abandoned medicine and set up a private laboratory at 14 Buckingham Street, Fitzroy Square.

1800 He and Tennant entered into a business partnership in London, which lasted until about 1809, to make platinum malleable. They also discovered 4 new elements: osmium and iridium by Tennant, and palladium and rhodium by Wollaston.

By 1805 he had perfected a method of preparing platinum consistently in malleable form.

The partnership brought fame and fortune.

1807 Patented the camera lucida and later developed other optical instruments[2].

By 1815 Wollaston had processed about 1½ tons of crude metal. Initially, most of it went to London gunmakers.

1821 Soon after the Danish physicist and chemist, Hans Christian Ørsted, had discovered the phenomenon of electromagnetism, Humphry Davy and William Hyde Wollaston tried but failed to design an electric motor. Michael Faraday, having discussed the problem with the two men, went on to build two devices to produce what he called "electromagnetic rotation".

1828 Fell ill from a brain tumour. Dictated to Henry Warburton full details of his process for making platinum malleable, which up to then he had kept secret. Died before the end of the year.

1831 The Geological Society named its highest award, the Wollaston medal, after him. It is made of Palladium.

He invented the first landscape lens, consisting of a meniscus lens with its concave side turned towards the view, and with a stop in front, a lens which continued in use for many years.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'William Cary and his Association with William Hyde Wollaston, by John A. Chaldecott, Platinum Metals Review, 1979, 23, 3
  2. Wikipedia [1]
  • Biography, ODNB [2]