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Published on Oct 14, 2014
Honoured by Napoleon and (unexpectedly) by the Czar of Russia, friend of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Lord Byron, Sir Humphry Davy was one of the brightest stars in the European firmament.
Discoverer of sodium, potassium and five other elements as well as the anaesthetic properties of nitrous oxide, inventor of the Davy miners' lamp and of the technique of cathodic protection, he packed more action and achievement into his short life - he was buried in Geneva not long after his fiftieth birthday - than most scientists before or after him, even those who outlived him by several decades. Much admired by Berzelius, sometimes criticized by his fellow countrymen, he used to say that his greatest discovery was Michael Faraday.
Sir John Meurig Thomas, Honorary Professor at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge, traced Davy's path from his lowly origins in Cornwall to the pinnacles of international fame.