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William Hyde Wollaston FRS (6 August 1766 – 22 December 1828) was an English chemist and physicist who is famous for discovering two chemical elements and for developing a way to process platinum ore.


Wollaston was born in East Dereham, Norfolk, the son of the priest-astronomer Francis Wollaston (1737-1815) and his wife Mary Farquier. He was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge: in 1793 William obtained a doctorate in medicine from Cambridge University and was a fellow of his college from 1787 to 1828. During his studies he became interested in chemistry, crystallography, metallurgy and physics. The mineral wollastonite is named after him. In 1800 he left medicine and concentrated on pursuing these interests instead of his trained vocation.

Wollaston died in London in 1828 and was buried in Chislehurst, England.

Wollaston became wealthy by developing the first physico-chemical method for processing platinum ore in practical quantities, and in the process of testing the device he discovered the elements palladium (symbol Pd) in 1803 and rhodium (symbol Rh) in 1804.

Anders Gustav Ekeberg discovered tantalum in 1802, however, William Hyde Wollaston declared it was identical with niobium (then known as columbium). Due to Wollaston's influence the existence of columbium was temporarily denied. Later Heinrich Rose proved in 1846 that columbium and tantalum were indeed different elements and he renamed columbium "niobium".

Wollaston also performed important work in electricity. In 1801, he performed an experiment showing that the electricity from friction was identical to that produced by voltaic piles. During the last years of his life he performed electrical experiments that would pave the way to the eventual design of the electric motor. However, controversy erupted when Michael Faraday, who was undoubtedly the first to construct a working electrical motor, refused to grant Wollaston credit for his earlier work. Wollaston also invented a battery that allowed the zinc plates in the battery to be raised out of the acid, so that the zinc wouldn't be dissolved as quickly as it would if it were in the battery all the time.

His optical work was important as well, where he is remembered for his observations of dark Fraunhofer lines in the solar spectrum (1802) which eventually led to the discovery of the elements in the Sun. He invented the camera lucida (1807), the reflecting goniometer (1809), and the Wollaston prism. He also developed the first lens specifically for camera lens called Wollaston's meniscus lens, or just meniscus lens, in 1812. The lens was designed to improve the image projected by the camera obscura. By changing the shape of the lens, Wollaston was able to project a flatter image, eliminating much of the distortion that was a problem with many of that day's biconvex lenses.

Wollaston used his Bakerian lecture in 1805, On the Force of Percussion, to defend Gottfried Leibniz's principle of vis viva, an early formulation of the conservation of energy. Wollaston was too ill to deliver his final Bakerian in 1828 and dictated it to Henry Warburton who read it on 20 November.

Wollaston's attempt to demonstrate the presence of glucose in the blood serum of diabetics was unsuccessful due to the limited means of detection available to him. His 1811 paper "On the non-existence of sugar in the blood of persons labouring under diabetes mellitus" [1] concluded that sugar must travel via lymphatic channels from the stomach directly to the kidneys, without entering the bloodstream. Wollaston supported this theory by referring to the thesis a young medical student at Edinburgh, Charles Darwin, "Experiments establishing a criterion between mucaginous and purulent matter. And an account of the retrograde motions of the absorbent vessels of animal bodies in some diseases."[2] This Charles Darwin was the eldest son of Erasmus Darwin and not his more famous nephew, Charles Robert Darwin.

Wollaston also served on a royal commission that opposed adoption of the metric system (1819), and one that created the imperial gallon.
Honours and awards

Honours and awards

* Fellow of the Royal Society, 1793.
o Secretary, 1804-1816.
o President, briefly in 1820.
o Royal Medal, 1828.
* Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1813.


* Wollaston Medal
* Wollastonite, a chain silicate mineral
* Wollaston Lake, in Saskatchewan, Canada
* Wollaston, a lunar impact crater


* Wollaston, William Hyde (1808). "On Super-Acid and Sub-Acid Salts". Phil. Trans. 98: 96–102. doi:10.1098/rstl.1808.0006. http://books.google.com/books?id=qD46AAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=William+Hyde+Wollaston#PPA34,M2.

See also

* Coddington magnifier


1. ^ Philos Trans R Soc Lond 101: 96–105. 1811.
2. ^ "Charles Darwin and the history of the early use of digitalis". Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 10 (2): 496–506. 1934.


* William Hyde Wollaston in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
* Lee, Sidney, ed. (1909), "William Hyde Wollaston", Dictionary of National Biography, XXI, New York: Macmillan, pp. 782–787, http://books.google.com/books?id=6SI8AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA782&dq=William++Wollaston
* Pearson, Tilmon H.; Ihde, Aaron J. (1951), "Chemistry and the Spectrum Before Bunsen and Kirchhoff", Journal of Chemical Education 28: 267–271
* Hinde, P. T. (1966). "William Hyde Wollaston: The Man and His "Equivalents"". Journal of Chemical Education 243: 673–676.
* Kipnis, Alexander. (1993) "The Man Who Discovered Rhodium". Rhodium Express. No 0: 30 - 34; "Discovery of Rhodium". Loc. cit. No 1: 30 - 34. ISSN 0869 - 7876
* Rouse Ball, Walter William (2009), A History of the Study of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Cambridge University Press, p. 116, ISBN 978-1-108-00207-3

External links

* Rhodium and Palladium Events Surrounding Their Discoveries
* William Hyde Wollaston - Dictionary of National Biography, Sidney Lee (editor), New York: Macmillan, 1900 (volume 62, pages 311-316)

Chemistry Encyclopedia

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