FIVE FACTS ABOUT ... THOMAS GRAHAM
Every week we’ll highlight famous Glaswegians
There is a statue of Glasgowborn scientist Thomas Graham in George Square, and Strathclyde University has named one of its buildings after him, but many people who walk past both every day may not even be aware of the extent of his impressive achievements.
Graham lived from 1805 to 1869. He was the son of a successful textile manufacturer who wanted him to become a minister in the Church of Scotland. He was only 14 when he became a student at the University of Glasgow in 1819, and it was while there that he developed an interest in chemistry. Despite his father’s wishes, he did not purse a career in the church and went on to study chemistry full time, being awarded an MA in the subject in 1826.
Thomas joined Anderson’s Institution (now the University of Strathclyde) as a Professor of Chemistry in 1830. Three years later, he published On the Law of the Diffusion of Gases, a groundbreaking work which cemented his international reputation and became known as Graham’s Law.
After a move to London, he became Professor of Chemistry at the recentlyfounded University College and by 1844 he was recognised as the leading chemist in England. In 1861, he invented what he called a ‘dialyzer’ to separate colloids and crystalloids. The method of separation is exactly that used in modern-day dialysis to separate urea from blood in the treatment of kidney disease. His book, Elements of Chemistry, became the standard textbook for students across Europe and beyond.
In 1854 Graham was appointed Master of the Mint (a post once occupied by Isaac Newton) remaining in post until his death in 1869. He also made contributions in fields as diverse as the detection of the adulteration of coffee; the production of alcohol during breadmaking; and the absorption of hydrogen gas by palladium metal.
Thomas Graham’s statue in Glasgow’s George Square, inset above