Robert Boyle – Chemist Education Summary

Robert Boyle did not receive a traditional formal education like most people. His parents provided young Robert with the best education available in seventeenth century England. He attended Eton—the college founded by King Henry VI almost 200 years earlier—and also had private tutors. He was not more than 8 years old at the time. Robert was encouraged to continue his education in Europe. So Robert was sent off to mainland Europe, destined for school in Geneva. After spending over three years at Eton, Robert traveled abroad with a French tutor.

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He had access to resources not available to students in England, and his knowledge broadened noticeably. He had a fondness for languages, mastering six, and found his interests also leaning greatly towards science. In 1641, at 16 year-old in Italy, Robert had the privilege of meeting the aged and ailing astronomer Galileo, who paved the way to a better understanding of the universe. This meeting was something Robert cherished, and it provided a great impetus to the young man to try now to discover even more about God’s world. Boyle returned to England in mid 1644 with a keen interest in science.

His father had died the previous year and had left him the manor of Stalbridge in Dorset. From that time, he devoted his life to scientific research, and soon took a prominent place in the band of inquirers, known as the “Invisible College”, who devoted themselves to the cultivation of the “new philosophy”. They met frequently in London, often at Gresham College; also had meeting at Oxford, where Boyle lived in 1654. At 18, he helped to found the Philosophical College in London (later to become the Royal Society of London). He specialized in chemistry, and maintained a belief in the necessity of objective observation in research.

He returned home to Ireland at the age of 25 and took up the study of anatomy. Two years later he travelled to Oxford, established a laboratory, and headed a small scientific society there. In 1661, at the age of 34, Boyle published The Skeptical Chymist. In this book he overturned Aristotle’s conception of the four elements (the belief that everything was composed of earth, air, fire and water) and replaced it with the modern idea of an element—namely that an element is a substance that cannot be separated into simpler components by chemical methods. The Skeptical Chymist is recognized as the foundation-stone of modern chemistry.

In 1663 the Invisible College became the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, and the charter of incorporation granted by Charles II of England, name Boyle a member of the council. In 1680 he was elected president of the society, but declined the honor from a scruple about oaths. In 1668 he left Oxford for London. In 1689 he gradually withdrew from public engagements, ceasing his communications to the Royal Society “unless upon occasions very extraordinary. ” It was at this time he wrote extensively and at his death, he willed an endowed series of Lectures which came to be known as Boyle Lectures.

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