Sir William Robert Grove - Encyclopedia

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SIR WILLIAM ROBERT GROVE (1811-1896), English judge and man of science, was born on the 11th of July 1811 at Swansea, South Wales. After being educated by private tutors, he went to Brasenose College, Oxford, where he took an ordinary degree in 1832. Three years later he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn. His health, however, did not allow him to devote himself strenuously to practice, and he occupied his leisure with scientific studies. About 1839 he constructed the platinum-zinc voltaic cell that bears his name, and with the aid of a number of these exhibited the electric arc light in the London Institution, Finsbury Circus. The result was that in 1840 the managers appointed him to the professorship of experimental philosophy, an office which he held for seven years. His researches dealt very largely with electro-chemistry and with the voltaic cell, of which he invented several varieties. One of these, the Grove gasbattery, which is of special interest both intrinsically and as the forerunner of the secondary batteries now in use for the "storage" of electricity, was based on his observation that a current is produced by, a couple of platinum plates standing in acidulated water and immersed, the one in hydrogen, the other in oxygen. At one of his lectures at the Institution he anticipated the electric lighting of to-day by illuminating the theatre with incandescent electric lamps, the filaments being of platinum and the current supplied by a battery of his nitric acid cells. In 1846 he published his famous book on The Correlation of Physical Forces, the leading ideas of which he had already put forward in his lectures: its fundamental conception was that each of the forces of nature - light, heat, electricity, &c. - is definitely and equivalently convertible into any other, and that where experiment does not give the full equivalent, it is because the initial force has been dissipated, not lost, by conversion into other unrecognized forces. In the same year he received a Royal medal from the Royal Society for his Bakerian lecture on "Certain phenomena of voltaic ignition and the decomposition of water into its constituent gases." In 1866 he presided over the British Association at its Nottingham meeting and delivered an address on the continuity of natural phenomena. But while he was thus engaged in scientific research, his legal work was not neglected, and his practice increased so greatly that in 1853 he became a Q.C. One of the best-known cases in which he appeared as an advocate was that of William Palmer, the Rugeley poisoner, whom he defended. In 1871 he was made a judge of the Common Pleas in succession to Sir Robert Collier, and remained on the bench till 1887. He died in London on the 1st of August 1896.

A selection of his scientific papers is given in the sixth edition of The Correlation of Physical Forces, published in 1874.

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