The Pioneers

Joseph Black 1728-1799

Joseph Black was born in Bordeaux, France in 1728. His father was a wine merchant from Belfast and his mother was Scottish.

At the age of 18 he attended Medical school at Glasgow University. He furthered his medical studies at Edinburgh. This is where his most famous experiments took place.

His experiments helped to pave a way for future scientists.
Joseph Black can be described as the first of the scientific chemists, as distinguished from medical chemists.

During 1752-1753 Black occupied himself with researching for a solvent for urinary calculi. He discovered by accident the difference between limestone and quicklime and this was produced by the expulsion of “fixed air” (discovered by Van Helmont)
Black discovered in 1762 the principle of latent heat, which was described in a paper to the philosophical club of Glasgow, but was not published till it appeared in Blacks
 “Lectures”edited by Kobison, in 1803.

The practical importance of Blacks discovery was at once recognised by James Watt through whose genius the use of latent heat was transformed into useful mechanical work in the invention of the steam engine.  

In 1782 the first real step to the science of anaesthesia was taken when Joseph Black became the first person to isolate carbon dioxide into its pure state and at the time he called it fixed air, as it could combine with a solid, this was a small step in terms of anaesthetic properties but a giant step in the breakthrough for science as it led to modern chemistry and eventually atomic research.

Black during his lifetime suffered from breathing problems, and rheumatic problems in later life. He was known to be a vegetarian in later life and also suffered from Vit D deficiency.

He improved when he moved out of the city into the country. He died, in Edinburgh, on 6 December 1799, and is buried in Greyfriars churchyard.




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The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

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