1755,1808 Magnesium

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Glasgow, LondonJoseph Black, Humphry Davy elements


Atomic number 12

Stuff that burns

Joseph Black discovered carbon dioxide, which he called fixed air or just air. He wrote, “It is therefore probable, that, had we also a method of separating the fixed alkali from an acid, without, at the same time, saturating it with air, we should then obtain it in a caustic form; but I am not acquainted with an instance of this separation in chemistry.” It took another 53 years and the invention of the electric battery for Davy to use electrolysis to separate the metal from magnesium oxide.

The invention of magnesium flash powder in 1887 let Jacob Riis photograph the dark side of New York City.

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