Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Moment In History

I took time out this afternoon for a long-standing commitment: to attend a meeting and reception at the University of Edinburgh for the unveiling of a new plaque naming the Department of Chemistry the “Joseph Black Building” in honour of Joseph Black (1728-99), discoverer of what he called “fixed air” and we now know as Carbon Dioxide. He was also a major influence during the Scottish Enlightenment in promoting chemistry as an academic discipline and gave his advice without seeking paid employment to individuals active in the burgeoning Scottish chemistry industry.

A speech by Dr. Robert Anderson, Department of History at Cambridge, was a masterly tour de force in a rounded view of Joseph Black’s life. Black was a close friend of Adam Smith, both at the University of Glasgow and, later, at Edinburgh University (he held the chair in chemistry at the latter for 33 years).

Black was also a close friend of James Hutton, geologist, and the man who deduced that the age of the Earth was far older than was believed with passionate certainty at the time. Both men were friends of Adam Smith, the moral philosopher, who made them his literary executors.

It was a productive few hours, well worth my time this busy afternoon.

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