Ev­ery week we’ll high­light fa­mous Glaswe­gians

Evening Times - - NEWS -


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

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