He was said to be strangely shy, reserved, and asocial. At present, it has been suggested that his lack of interest in relating to others was due to the fact that he suffered from Asperger's syndrome (a neurobiological disorder belonging to the autism spectrum). Apparently, he only related to his immediate family and other scientists, communicated with service personnel through written notes, and never had any interest in publishing the findings of his extensive research. This fact could be the reason why his discoveries were not recognized until 70 years after his death and why he remains a little-known scientist.
Cavendish was born in 1731 into one of the wealthiest families in England. He was the son of Lord Charles Cavendish, youngest son of the Duke of Devonshire, and Lady Ann Gray, who died giving birth to Frederick, Henry's brother, when he was only 2 years old.
Cavendish studied at Newcome's School in Hackney and at the age of 18 entered Peterhouse (Cambridge University), abandoning his studies before graduating. It was at this time that he isolated himself from the world and dedicated himself exclusively to what he was passionate about: research in the areas of mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Even the millionaire inheritance received from his uncle did not manage to separate him from his investigations or from his lifestyle.
In 1773, he built a large laboratory in Clapham (London) with all the technological elements existing at that time. There was no shortage of scales, thermometers, barometers, buckets and all kinds of gadgets.
Among many other discoveries, in his work as a physicist and chemist, he provided the first studies on the theory of electricity (including the concept of potential), measured capacitance, anticipated Ohm's law, formulated the chemical composition of water and, above all, After all, he discovered hydrogen.
In one of his investigations, Cavendish took zinc particles that he later mixed with chloric acid. He was able to observe that a gas was generated, dubbed “flammable air”, and that we know today as hydrogen. Thus, he continued his experiments, wanting to check how this element reacted with others, such as air. As a result of this chemical reaction, he obtained water, discovering by pure serendipity that water was composed of two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen (1766).
In 1798, more than 20 years later, Cavendish achieved another of his great achievements: calculating the density of the earth. This discovery allowed, 75 years later, to obtain the real value of the gravitational constant. Cavendish himself said that he sought to “weigh the world”. For this he used an instrument called a “torque balance”.
In addition, he studied the density of the atmosphere, conducted electrical experiments, and research in mechanics, optics, and magnetism. All these discoveries were reflected in his reports. He sent many of them to the Royal Society Club in London (his only connection of his to the society). However, many others were stored in his residence, which is why they did not see the light of day until many decades later.
Cavendish died of illness in February 1810 at the age of 79, an advanced age for his time.
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