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Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp

Lancaster University via FutureLearn


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Before culture was divided into the sciences and the arts there was a chemist who was also a poet. Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) is one of the best known men of science of the nineteenth century: he was the first person to inhale nitrous oxide; he isolated nine chemical elements; and he invented the miners’ safety lamp known as the Davy lamp. This course will consider Davy’s life and career using manuscript sources held at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. We will read Davy’s letters, his poetry and even recreate some of his most famous experiments! We have revised this online course to incorporate some of the discoveries made during our three-year project to transcribe Davy’s notebooks.

(See the Davy Notebooks Project here if you want to help complete transcribing the notebooks:

This course is open to anyone with an interest in history, particularly the history of science and medicine, or with an interest in poetry. No prior knowledge of Humphry Davy’s life and times is required.


  • The Life and Times of Sir Humphry Davy
    • Introduction
    • Introduction to Davy
    • Davy's Nitrous Oxide Experiments
    • Davy's Other Experiments
  • Chemistry and Poetry
    • Davy's chemistry and poetry
    • Davy and Frankenstein
    • Davy at the Royal Institution
  • The Davy Lamp
    • The Davy Lamp
    • The Safety Lamp Controversy
    • Davy's Notebooks
  • The Clash of Science, Politics and Culture
    • The Clash of Science, Politics and Culture
    • Davy's Legacy
    • Decolonising Davy
    • The Two Cultures
    • The Arts and Sciences
    • Summing up

Taught by

Tim Ellis


4.6 rating at FutureLearn based on 25 ratings

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