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The Role Of Michael Faraday In The Development Of Contemporary Chemical Engineering

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.478.1 - 1.478.5

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James W. Gentry

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Semoh 3t&l The Role of Michael Faraday in the Development of Contemporary Chemical Engineering

James W. Gentry Department of Chemical Engineering University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland

The origins of contemporary Chemical Engineering (i.e. transport phenomena, thermodynamics, kinetics . ..) lie in the first three quarters of the nineteenth century. Michael Faraday was responsible for more than a half-dozen historically significant studies which were subsequently incorporated into chemical engineering practice and which form the standard chemical engineering curriculum. Here we focus on those traits of Faraday which led to his reputation of the greatest experimental scientist. These traits are illustrated with a discussion of three of his seminal works in the foundations of chemical engineering. These are his papers on heterogeneous catalysis, the manufacture of optical glass, and the liquefaction of gases. In this paper we discuss the background in which Faraday worked, and the consequence which resulted from the study.

Experimental studies utilize three attributes. First the researcher needs to be a careful observer. Many of Faraday’s most impressive results including the discovery of the thermal properties of semiconductors and the use of the Faraday -Tyndall effect to detect submicron particles in a colloidal solution directly followed from his acute observations. Secondly the experimentalist must be a gifted technician. Evidence of this trait are the design of definitive experiments and the development of new instrumentation. Finally, the most talented experimentalist are able to formulate bold hypothesis of the underlying science. Faraday’s conjectures on the ‘condensation theory’ of surface catalysis and the role of the critical point in gas liquefaction are examples of his insightful guesses.

Kinetics and Surface Catalysis:

Kinetics is the study of the rate of chemical analysis. Frequently in gas phase reactions, the gaseous components are absorbed on to a solid substrate where they react and then are desorbed. In some cases the properties of surface facilitate the reaction. Such a system is called heterogeneous catalysis. One such reaction is the combination of oxygen and hydrogen to form water. This mixture when ignited by a spark or flame will ignite and explode with violence. Normally, no reaction occurs at room temperature. However the presence of a platinum substrate will serve to catalyze the reaction. In the mid-1 820’s, Dobereiner passed hydrogen through a platinum gauze. The hydrogen catalyzed by the platinum combines with oxygen from the air. The mixture ignites and then begins to burn. Dobereiner developed a very successful commercial product - fire lighter - based on this principle. The instrument was eventually replaced by the safety match. The only mechanisms for the catalytic behavior of the platinum surface that were proposed prior to Faraday’s study were vague references to electrical forces.

?$!ixij 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘O,+,yyy’:

Gentry, J. W. (1996, June), The Role Of Michael Faraday In The Development Of Contemporary Chemical Engineering Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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