Record

CodeNA6652
Dates1728-1799
Person NameBlack; Joseph (1728-1799); chemist
SurnameBlack
ForenamesJoseph
Epithetchemist
ActivityProfessor Joseph Black, MD, chemist, was born in Bordeaux in 1728, the son of John Black, a wine merchant, and a Miss Gordon of Aberdeenshire, whose family was also engaged in the wine trade. Joseph Black was educated in Belfast and, in 1746, he went to study medicine at Glasgow University, where he became assistant to his chemistry professor, William Cullen. In 1750 or 1751 he continued his studies in Edinburgh, graduating in 1754. His graduation thesis, revised and published as 'Experiments upon Magnesia Alba, Quicklime, and some other Alkaline Substances' (1756) showed that he had effectively discovered carbon dioxide. He was then initially appointed to the chair of Anatomy and Chemistry at Glasgow University, 1756, but transferred to the chair of Medicine. He remained in this chair for the next ten years, and at the same time practised as a physician. Black continued to conduct scientific experiments and in particular spent much of the late 1750s working on the concept of latent heat. He finally established the validity of this idea in 1761and went on to formulate the theory of specific heat.

In 1766, Black became Professor of Medicine and Chemistry at Edinburgh University and from then concentrated his efforts on teaching. Black's health began to break down in 1793, and in 1795 Charles Hope was appointed as his co-professor. He gave his last lecture in 1797 and died on 6 December 1799. Black was a member of the Paris and St Petersburg Academies of Sciences, the Society of Medicine of Paris, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians. His lectures were collected and published postumously as 'Lectures on the Elements of Chemistry, delivered in the University of Edinburgh' (1803).
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