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Bobby Boyle

Born today about one hundred years apart, Bobby Burns is the more famous, but Bobby Boyle (we are taking liberties with his name) has affected our lives as deeply.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1627, the son of the Earl of Cork, Robert Boyle went to Eton when he was eight and travelled in Europe in his early teens. In Florence he studied the "paradoxes of the great star-gazer" Galileo Galilei, who died in 1642.

Boyle grew up to be a devout Christian and a scientist who based all his work on experiment and proof. He assembled a research group, performed controlled experiments, and published descriptions of his procedures, apparatus, and observations. Unusually for a scientist, he described his failures as well as his successes.

With Robert Hooke’s help, he constructed an improved air pump to create a vacuum, and proved that air is necessary for sound, fire, and life. He went on to explain the inverse relationship between the volume of a gas and its pressure in Boyle’s Law.

The first scientist to develop a method of chemical analysis, Boyle is one of the founders of chemistry, the science concerned with the composition, structure, and properties of matter, the changes it undergoes during chemical reactions and the transfer of energy between substances. Understanding these will be crucial to efficiently heating our homes and to developing medical drugs and all our electronic gadgets.

Boyle was passionate about understanding the world. He never married, and left his wealth to charity and science.

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