Institute and Museum of History of Science, Florence, ITALY

                      The main characters                   
Gasparo Berti (ca. 1600-1643) Robert Boyle (1627-1691) Paolo Casati (1617-1707)

Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle, Opera Omnia, Venice 1696

Details and accessories of Boyle's air-pump.
Robert Boyle, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects, Oxford 1660


Born in Lismore, in Ireland, he started his studies at Eton, and at only 12 years old, went, with his tutor, on a long series of journeys on the European continent. After a period in Ireland, he settled in 1655 in Oxford, dedicating himself full-time to scientific research. During these years, he was in contact with a group of researchers devoted to the study of the new experimental philosophy. This nucleus of scientists and philosophers, a few years later, formed the Royal Society, of which Boyle was to be a founding member
Boyle's reputation is firmly joined to the definition of the notion of the "chemical element", announced for the first time in the work The Sceptical Chymist published in London in 1661. In this work, he proposes a rigorous corpuscular conception of matter, in drastic opposition to the traditional aristotelian theory of the four elements (water, air, earth and fire).
In 1657, inspired by reading a description of pneumatic experiments carried out by Otto von Guericke, Boyle began to think of building an instrument which might easily produce a vacuum. Thanks to the partnership of his assistant, Robert Hooke, who was extremely talented in working out effective solutions to even the most difficult experimental problems, he succeeded shortly in making the air-pump, which enabled him to carry out important experiments, described in the New Experiments physico-mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects (1660).
The experiments performed with the air-pump constructed by Hooke allowed Boyle to show that the suspension of the column of mercury in the barometric tube, taken from Torricelli's experiments, were definitely dependent on atmospheric pressure, that sound was impossible in the vacuum, that air was indispensable to life and combustion, and, moreover, that air was characterised by a permanent elasticity, or "spring" as he called it. In studying this characteristic of air, and through other experiments described in the second edition of New Experiments (1662), Boyle managed to determine the relation linking the volume and the pressure of a gas at a constant temperature (volume changes inversely to pressure), thus establishing the important principle in physics now called "Boyle's Law".





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