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Early Years as a Natural Philosopher

Early Years as a Natural Philosopher


(p.53) Chapter 3 Early Years as a Natural Philosopher
Pure Intelligence
Melvyn C. Usselman
University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes W. H. Wollaston’s introduction to the Royal Society and its dining club, together with his association with Humphry Davy and Thomas Young. Wollaston’s intellectual emphasis on the primacy of observation, and his distrust of overhasty theory formation, is explained with reference to his debate with Young on the vibratory theory of light. Wollaston’s pioneering studies of galvanism, including descriptions of his miniature devices for water electrolysis and electrical incandescence, are described. There is also an analysis of his groundbreaking paper on the refraction and dispersion of light, which included the invention of a refractometer based on total internal reflection, and the first observation of dark lines in the solar spectrum as well as the existence of ultraviolet light. A description is also given of his study of the double refraction of Iceland spar and invention of three optical instruments for naval navigation.

Keywords:   William Hyde Wollaston, Humphry Davy, Thomas Young, observation, theory, galvanism, refractometer, solar dark lines, ultraviolet light, optical instruments

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