Engraving
Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
Nova experimenta physico-mechanica de vi aëris elastica
Rotterdam: Arnold Leers Junior, 1669
Wheeler Collection, Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library

 
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Born to great wealth, Robert Boyle was the son of one of Queen Elizabeth I's more successful gentleman adventurers, Richard Boyle. New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and Its Effects (1660) was his first book. This Latin edition made the work accessible to a wider scientific community.

Three years earlier, Boyle had learned of Otto van Guericke's invention of the air pump to create a vacuum, and with the help of various assistants, including Robert Hooke, had constructed improved models. He then carried out a series of brilliant experiments, using the sort of equipment shown here to determine the physical nature of air. He concluded that air was truly necessary for life and flame, that sound did not exist in a vacuum, and that air was permanently elastic. In the second edition of 1662, he developed this last discovery into what has become known as Boyle's law, that volume varies inversely with pressure. He also refuted the idea, still held by many in his day, that a vacuum could not exist.

 


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