Faraday and the Simple Candle: An inspiration

In 1848, Michael Faraday delivered the Christmas Lectures at the Royal Society concerning “The Chemical History of a Candle”, later collected into a book of the same title (pdf, e-reader).  In these lectures Faraday explains chemistry by discussing just one simple, everyday object, a candle.  Explaining his choice of focus, Faraday says:

“There is not a law under which any part of this universe is governed which does not come into play, and is touched upon in these phenomena.  There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy, than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.” (Lecture 1: Paragraph 1)

Faraday the man is interesting in his own right.  In an era when scientists were still wealthy gentleman he was a self-taught son of a blacksmith.  However though the clever design of experiments and clear insight into the concepts at work, Faraday produced ground-breaking work in chemistry and physics, particularly in the field of electricity and electrochemistry.  As such, Faraday is an on-going inspiration to me in my life as a chemist and a chemical educator.

In this blog I propose to follow in the Faraday’s tradition.  My intention is to write about the amazing chemistry that underlies our daily lives.  Chemistry is not something that takes place within a lab, it is an invisible but constant presence, both natural and man-made, and my goal is to elucidate that presence through these posts.  My hope is that this will be accessible to those who are just beginning their chemical training but still be interesting to those who already and proudly call themselves chemists. 

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