Henry Cavendish

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Henry Cavendish FRS (10 October 1731 – 24 February 1810) was a British scientist noted for his discovery of hydrogen or what he called "inflammable air".[1] He described the density of inflammable air, which formed water on combustion, in a 1766 paper "On Factitious Airs". Antoine Lavoisier later reproduced Cavendish's experiment and gave the element its name. Cavendish is also known for the Cavendish experiment, his measurement of the Earth's density, and early research into electricity.

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Biography

Henry Cavendish was born on 10 October 1731 in Nice, France, where his family was living at the time. His mother was Lady Anne Grey, daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Kent and his father was Lord Charles Cavendish, son of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire. The family traces its lineage across eight centuries to Norman times and was closely connected to many aristocratic families of Great Britain.

At age 11, Cavendish was a pupil at Peter Newcome's School in Hackney. At age 18 (on 24 November 1749) he entered the University of Cambridge in St Peter's College, now known as Peterhouse, but left four years later on 23 February 1753 without graduating.[2][3] His first paper, "Factitious Airs", appeared thirteen years later, in 1766.

Cavendish was silent and solitary, and was viewed as somewhat eccentric by many. He only spoke to his female servants by notes and formed no close personal relationships outside his family. By one account, Cavendish had a back staircase added to his house in order to avoid encountering his housekeeper because he was especially shy of women. The contemporary accounts of his personality have led some modern commentators, such as Oliver Sacks, to speculate that he had Asperger syndrome, though he may merely have been painfully shy. His only social outlet was the Royal Society Club, whose members dined together before weekly meetings. Cavendish seldom missed these meetings, and was profoundly respected by his contemporaries. However his shyness made those who "sought his views... speak as if into vacancy. If their remarks were...worthy, they might receive a mumbled reply."[4] He also enjoyed collecting fine furniture exemplified by his purchase of a set of "ten inlaid satinwood chairs with matching cabriole legged sofa" documented to have been acquired by Cavendish himself.[5]

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