Henry Cavendish

On this date in 1731, chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish was born in Nice, France, to a wealthy family of English aristocrats. Educated at Cambridge, he devoted his life to the study of chemistry. Among his contributions: discerning the composition of water and of the atmosphere, taking the first accurate measurement of the density of Earth and isolating hydrogen. Considered morbidly shy, especially around women, he left his female servant his meal orders in writing. Oliver Sacks speculated that he had Asperger’s syndrome.

He was one of England’s wealthiest men by the age of 40 due to inheritances. His one social outlet was the Royal Society Club. Although he conducted numerous experiments, Cavendish did not publish articles frequently. A century after his experiments with electricity, James Clerk Maxwell discovered Cavendish’s work and published it for the first time. Cavendish did not attend church and was an agnostic, although he was buried along with his ancestors in the church which is now Derby Cathedral. D. 1810.

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