Phlogiston theory

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The phlogiston theory (from the Ancient Greek φλογιστόν phlŏgistón "burning up", from φλόξ phlóx "fire"), first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, is an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called "phlogiston", which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion. The theory was an attempt to explain processes such as combustion and the rusting of metals, which are now understood as oxidation.

Contents

History

In 1667, Johann Joachim Becher published his Physical Education, which was the first mention of what would become the phlogiston theory. Traditionally, alchemists considered that there were four classical elements: fire, water, air, and earth. In his book, Becher eliminated fire and air from the classical element model and replaced them with three forms of earth: terra lapidea, terra fluida, and terra pinguis.[1][2] Terra pinguis was the element which imparted oily, sulphurous, or combustible properties.[3] Becher believed that terra pinguis was a key feature of combustion and was released when combustible substances were burned.[1] In 1703 Georg Ernst Stahl, professor of medicine and chemistry at Halle, proposed a variant of the theory in which he renamed Becher's terra pinguis to phlogiston, and it was in this form that the theory probably had its greatest influence.[4]

Theory

The theory holds that all flammable materials contain phlogiston, a substance without color, odor, taste, or mass that is liberated in burning. Once burned, the "dephlogisticated" substance was held to be in its "true" form, the calx.

"Phlogisticated" substances are those that contain phlogiston and are "dephlogisticated" when burned; "in general, substances that burned in air were said to be rich in phlogiston; the fact that combustion soon ceased in an enclosed space was taken as clear-cut evidence that air had the capacity to absorb only a definite amount of phlogiston. When air had become completely phlogisticated it would no longer serve to support combustion of any material, nor would a metal heated in it yield a calx; nor could phlogisticated air support life, for the role of air in respiration was to remove the phlogiston from the body."[5]

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