[Worldkings] Top 100 pioneers in all fields (P. 58) William Robert Grove (UK): The first man to invent the fuel cell


(Worldkings.org) Welsh polymath William Robert Grove, inventor of the first incandescent electric light and pioneer of early photographic processes, is best known today for his eponymous fuel cell.

Sir William Robert Grove, FRS FRSE (11 July 1811 – 1 August 1896) was a Welsh judge and physical scientist. He anticipated the general theory of the conservation of energy, and was a pioneer of fuel cell technology. He invented the Grove voltaic cell.

Grove was born in Swansea, Wales, to a local magistrate. He was privately educated before attending Brasenose College at Oxford University, where he studied the classics, graduating in 1832. He became a lawyer in 1835, but his scientific interests led him to join the Royal Institution that same year. He wrote his first scientific paper on his honeymoon in 1837, proposing a new voltaic design for electric cells. It was published in October in the Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science.

In 1842, Grove developed the first fuel cell (which he called the gas voltaic battery), which produced electrical energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen, and described it using his correlation theory. In developing the cell and showing that steam could be disassociated into oxygen and hydrogen, and the process reversed, he was the first person to demonstrate the thermal dissociation of molecules into their constituent atoms.

(Photo for illustration)

This process was initially privately demonstrated to Faraday and Gassiot, and it is this seminal work that led to Grove’s insights on ionisation and the discovery of sputtering – in which microscopic particles of a solid material are ejected from its surface after the material is bombarded by energetic particles of a plasma or gas.

Grove must have been especially pleased, since the gas battery provided evidence for his fledgling theory of the correlation of physical forces—a precursor to our modern concept of conservation of energy. He published an essay describing his theory in 1846, arguing that “heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and motion, are all correlative, or have a reciprocal dependence,” and therefore, “either may, as a force, produce or be convertible into the other, this heat may mediately or immediately produce electricity, electricity may produce heat; and so of the rest." But Grove never fully developed his theory qualitatively.

His scientific career led to the practice of patent and other law after 1853. He was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas in 1871 and was knighted in 1872. After retirement from the bench in 1887, he resumed his scientific studies.

According to Wikipedia - theengineer.co.uk - aps.org

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