Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (6 December 1778 – 9 May 1850)

Amateur balloonist Joseph was a French scientist with professorships in both chemistry and physics.

He married once and had five children.

He improved the design of lead chambers for the manufacture of sulphuric acid by adding packing and cooling.

He proved that gas pressure increases with temperature, discovered the chemical elements boron and iodine, developed pipettes and burettes and carried out many experiments with alcohol and water to develop the ‘degrees Gay-Lussac’ scale.

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Digging out a granulator, large or small, is a horrible task.

Working in any confined space is uncomfortable, mentally and physically. Now add a waterproof suit with hood, thick rubber boots, goggles and a dust mask. The work was back-breaking: spades and chisels, pneumatic hammers. Tonnes and tonnes of solids to be chipped out and removed.

But despite this, digging out the granulator held a certain appeal for some men. The task was clearly defined. A vessel full of stuff that had to be shifted. There was a start and an end and some variation – the stuff could be light and friable, soft and sloppy, or set solid. Time was of the essence. As the granulator cooled, multiple chemical reactions continued until the solids set into a single concrete lump. This was one of the few dirty jobs that couldn’t be left for the next shift; the challenge was to get as much done as possible, as fast as possible. Competitive digging.

A bit like going to war, there was an enemy to be fought and it could only be conquered by superior force. It took some skill but above all, plain physical old-fashioned hard work.

Phosphate Rocks: A Death in ten Objects is published by Sandstone Press £8.99 and is available from all good bookshops and online here.