Antonio de Ulloa y de la Torre-Giralt, discoverer of platinum

Antonio de Ulloa y de la Torre-Giralt

January 12, 1716, in Seville (Spain) – July 5, 1795, Chislehurst (England)

A Spanish scientist, soldier and sailor, he embarked at the age of thirteen on the galleon San Luis bound for Cartagena de Indias, from where he returned in 1732 and continued his career as a sailor and soldier.

In 1735, with the aim of settling the problem of the dimensions of the Earth, the Academie Royale des Sciencies of France appointed two scientific expeditions. One would go to Lapland (in the vicinity of the North Pole) and the other to Ecuador (in the vicinity of Quito) to measure the meridian arc between those extreme places that would demonstrate the hypothesis that the geometric surface of the Earth could be assimilated to an ellipsoid flattened by the poles. . Antonio de Ulloa was responsible for the mission to Ecuador.


During this trip, he discovered in the gold mines of the Pinto River in Peru, a new mineral that he called "Platina de Pinto" because of its resemblance to silver and because he had found it in that river. However, he eventually stuck with the platinum name. Antonio de Ulloa was the first to carry out a rigorous analysis and description of this element with atomic number 78 in the periodic table.

On his way back to Spain he was captured by the English and taken to England. He took advantage of his stay there to complete his knowledge and publish some studies on the new mineral. He also met the president of the Royal Society, where he became a member in 1746.

Meanwhile, in 1741, Charles Wood brought the first samples of platinum to England and, following Ulloa's publication in 1748, the properties of this highly valuable element began to be studied in England and Sweden. Because of this fact, British historians say that platinum was discovered by Wood and not by Antonio de Ulloa.

In 1758, he was appointed governor of Huancavélica (Peru) and superintendent of its famous mercury mine, in which he tried to apply his knowledge and experiences and introduce administrative reforms, but he was not very successful.

In 1766, he was appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory, but was expelled by French colonists in 1768.

The War of Independence of the United States, to which Spain had just joined, meant his departure to sea again in command of another fleet and, in 1779, he was promoted to lieutenant general of the Navy and carried out two missions to the Azores and Cape Spartel. In addition, he was the founder of the Royal Cabinet of Natural History (which gave rise to the National Museum of Natural Sciences), the Astronomical Observatory of Cádiz and the first laboratory to investigate metallurgical techniques in the entire country. He was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Prussian Academy, known as the Berlin Academy, and a correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris.


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