On Wednesday, 10 January, Professor Iwan Morus will present a lunchtime talk on William Robert Grove.
Grove was a scientist from Swansea who was brought up during the ferment of the Victorian industrial revolution. During this period the appreciation of the importance of science and its use in everyday life gathered pace. Grove’s neighbours included the botanist Lewis Weston Dillwyn and the industrialist John Henry Vivian. Both became Fellows of the Royal Society, as Grove did himself: evidence of Wales’ scientific heritage from the period.
Grove studied in Brasenose College, Oxford, before moving to London to commence a career in the law. His interest turned to science and specifically to the chemical reactions that produce electricity. He discovered the acid nitrate battery (the Grove cell) and he attracted the attention of Faraday. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1840 and he was appointed a Professor in the London Institute a year later.
Grove’s vision was for such batteries to be used in the future to power transportation. Indeed, the German engineer, Moritz Hermann van Jacobi used a series of Grove batteries to power an electromagnetic motor boat on the river Neva in St. Pertersburg. The technology was also used by the telegraph industry in America.
When Grove experimented further he developed the gas battery by placing tubes of Oxygen and Hydrogen alternately in dilute sulphuric acid and connecting them with Platina foil. The battery transformed Oxygen and Hydrogen to electricity and water. This was the forerunner of the modern fuel cell. He also introduced early ideas on the Conservation of Energy.
By Grove’s death in 1896 a future was foreseen where electricity would be all-powerful. Though the complete dream was not realized (coal and gas came to prominence), battery technology has developed rapidly, and is essential to many aspects of modern life. If a new and clean technology can be developed, the debt to this notable man from Swansea would be considerable.
Interestingly, Grove returned to the law later in his life;, he became a QC and was appointed a judge
To order a ticket to hear Professor Morus’s lecture follow this link.
The University of Wales Press published a book by Professor Iwan Morus on William Robert Grove last year in the series on Welsh scientists. You can read the book in the Library by ordering it here.
Acknowledgement is made to an article written by Professor Iwan Morus which appeared on the websites of The Conversation and Aberystwyth University.
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