James Young - Encyclopedia

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JAMES YOUNG (1811-1883), Scottish industrial chemist, was born in Glasgow on the 13th of July 1811. During his apprenticeship to his father, a carpenter, he attended evening classes at Anderson's College, where he had Lyon Playfair and David Livingstone for fellow-pupils; and the ability he showed was such that Thomas Graham, the professor of chemistry, chose him as lecture assistant in 1832. About 1839, on the recommendation of Graham, whom in 1837 he had accompanied to University College, London, he was appointed chemist at James Muspratt's alkali works in Lancashire; in connexion with alkali he showed that cast-iron vessels could be satisfactorily substituted for silver in the manufacture of caustic soda, and worked out improvements in the production of chlorate of potash. But his name is best known in connexion with the establishment of the Scottish mineral-oil industry. In 1847 Lyon Playfair informed him of a spring of petroleum which had made its appearance at Ridding's Colliery at Alfreton in Derbyshire, and in the following year he began to utilize it for making both burning and lubricating oils. This spring was practically exhausted by 1851. It had served to draw Young's attention to the question of oil-production, and in 1850 he took out his fundamental patent for the distillation of bituminous substances. This was soon put into operation in Scotland, first with the Boghead coal or Torbanehill mineral, and later with bituminous shales, and though he had to face much litigation Young successfully employed it in the manufacture of naphtha and lubricating oils, and subsequently of illuminating oils and paraffin wax, until in 1866, after the patent had expired, he transferred his works to a limited company. In 1872 he suggested the use of caustic lime to prevent the corrosion of iron ships by the bilge water, which he noticed was acid, and in 1878 he began a determination of the velocity of white and coloured light by a modification of H. L. Fizeau's method, in collaboration with Professor George Forbes (b. 1849), at Pitlochry. The final results were obtained in 1880-81 across the Firth of Clyde from Kelly, his house at Wemyss Bay, and a hill above Inellan, and gave values rather higher than those obtained by M. A. Cornu and A. A. Michelson. Young was a liberal supporter of David Livingstone, and also gave Io,50o to endow a chair of technical chemistry at Anderson's College. He died at Wemyss Bay on the 14th of May 1883.

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