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Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac
Born 6 December 1778 (1778-12-06)
Died 9 May 1850 (1850-05-10)
Nationality French
Fields Chemistry
Known for Gay-Lussac's law

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (also Louis Joseph Gay-Lussac, 6 December 1778 – 9 May 1850) was a French chemist and physicist. He is known mostly for two laws related to gases, and for his work on alcohol-water mixtures, which led to the degrees Gay-Lussac used to measure alcoholic beverages in many countries.



Gay-Lussac was born at Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat in the department of Haute-Vienne. He received his early education at home, and in 1794 was sent to Paris to prepare for the École Polytechnique after his father was arrested, and into which he was admitted at the end of 1797. Three years later, Gay-Lussac transferred to the École des Ponts et Chaussées, and shortly afterwards was assigned to C. L. Berthollet as his assistant. In 1802, he was appointed demonstrator to A. F. Fourcroy at the École Polytechnique, where in (1809) he became professor of chemistry. From 1808 to 1832, he was professor of physics at the Sorbonne, a post which he only resigned for the chair of chemistry at the Jardin des Plantes. In 1821, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1831 he was elected to represent Haute-Vienne in the chamber of deputies, and in 1839 he entered the chamber of peers.

Gay-Lussac married Geneviève-Marie-Joseph Rojot in 1809. He had first met her when she worked as a linen draper's shop assistant and was studying a chemistry textbook under the counter. He fathered five children, of whom the eldest (Jules) became assistant to Justus Liebig in Giessen. Some publications by Jules are mistaken as his father's today since they share the same first initial (J. Gay-Lussac).

Gay-Lussac died in Paris, and his grave is there at the Père Lachaise cemetery.

Some of Gay-Lussac's descendants live in Brazil, South America (de Salusse Lussac/Lussac Do Coutto/Do Coutto Monni) and in Ontario, Canada.


Gay-Lussac and Biot ascend in a hot air balloon, 1804. Illustration from the late 19th century.
  • 1802 - Gay-Lussac first formulated the law stating that if the mass and pressure of a gas are held constant then gas volume increases linearly as the temperature rises. This is sometimes written as V = k T, where k is a constant dependent on the type, mass, and pressure of the gas and T is temperature on an absolute scale. (In terms of the ideal gas law, k = n R / P.)
  • 1804 - He and Jean-Baptiste Biot made a hot-air balloon ascent to a height of 6.4 kilometres in an early investigation of the Earth's atmosphere. He wanted to collect samples of the air at different heights to record differences in temperature and moisture.
  • 1805 - Together with his friend and scientific collaborator Alexander von Humboldt, he discovered that the composition of the atmosphere does not change with decreasing pressure (increasing altitude). They also discovered that water is formed by two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen (by volume).
  • 1808 - He was the co-discoverer of boron.
  • 1810 - In collaboration with Louis Thenard, he developed a method for quantitative elemental analysis by measuring the CO2 and O2 evolved by reaction with potassium chlorate.
  • 1811 - Gay-Lussac recognized iodine as a new element, described its properties, and suggested the name iode.[1]
  • 1824 - He developed an improved version of the burette that included a side arm, and coined the terms "pipette" and "burette" in an 1824 paper about the standardization of indigo solutions.[2]
  • In Paris, a street and a hotel near the Sorbonne are named after him as are a square and a street in his birthplace, Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat.

Academic lineage

Academic Genealogy
Notable teachers Notable students
C. L. Berthollet (1748-1822), Paris

Antoine François, comte de Fourcroy (1755-1809), Paris

Jean-Jacques Colin (1784-1865), répétiteur in 1809-1817

Pierre Robiquet (1780-1840), répétiteur in 1813-1818
César Despretz (1791-1863), répétiteur in 1817-?
Jules Pelouze (1807-1867), répétiteur in 1831-1837?
Edmé Fremy (1814-1894)
Henri-Victor Regnault (1810-1878)
Justus Liebig (1803-1873)


Gravesite of Gay-Lussac
  1. ^ See p. 133 (Appendix 2) of The Chemical Elements: A Historical Perspective by Andrew Ede, Greenwood Press, 2006.
  2. ^ Louis Rosenfeld. Four Centuries of Clinical Chemistry. CRC Press, 1999, p. 72-75.

Further reading

  • Gay-Lussac, L. J. and A. von Humboldt (1805) Expérience sur les moyens oediométriques et sur la proportion des principes constituents de l'atmosphère. J. Phys.-Paris LX.
  • Maurice Crosland. Gay-Lussac, Scientist and Bourgeois, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1978, 333p., ISBN 0521219795

External links

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