Daniel Rutherford

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Daniel Rutherford

Daniel Rutherford (November 3, 1749 – November 15, 1819) was a Scottish physician, chemist, and botanist, born in Edinburgh who, while still a student, discovered the existence of nitrogen ( 1772), independently of parallel studies at the same time, Scheele, Henry Cavendish (1731-1810), and Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) This was one of the most famous chemical amateurs, and described the atmosphere as vital oxygen (1778), which he called “deflogistic air”, a name that means air without phlogiston.

Formed at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where his father John was a professor of Medicine. He was a student of Joseph Black (1728-1799) and practiced medicine in Edinburgh, and became a member of the “Royal College of Physicians”, where he was secretary and president. He was “Regius Chair of Medicine and Botany” in Edinburgh, and also Curator of the “Royal Botanic Garden”, in 1786, after the death of Professor John Hope (1725-1786).

Uncle of the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), died in Edinburgh.

Five years after the important discovery, Antoine Lavoisier (1775-1776) showed that air is a mixture of 21% by volume of oxygen and 79% by volume of nitrogen and called it nitrogen, which means a gas not suitable for the life (1777). It was Jean-Antoine Chaptal who gave the definitive name to nitrogen (1790) and more than a hundred years later, Ramsay and Rayleigh showed that 79% by volume of nitrogen, Lavoisier consisted of 78% in volume of nitrogen and 1% in volume of noble gases, with an almost absolute predominance of argon. In this sense, follows the discovery of the Scottish scientist on nitrogen in 1772, since he was the first to publish his discovery when presenting Disseratio inauguralis de Aere fixed dicto, aut mephitico (1772), although in Britain, the chemist Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish and in Sweden, Carl Wilhelm Scheele also discovered the element at the same time.

The French physician and industrialist Jean Chaptal (1756-1832) gave it the name nitrogen (1790), after discovering its relationship with nitric acid. Its compounds, however, are very active, and also very important in the production of food, especially of agricultural origin.

It was Fritz Haber (1868-1934) who developed a process to extract nitrogen from the air and the production of ammonia (NH3) to be used as soil fertilizer (1908).

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