BBC’s In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg this week is about the discovery of oxygen:
In 1772, the British chemist, Joseph Priestley, stood in front of the Royal Society and reported on his latest discovery: “this air is of exalted nature…A candle burned in this air with an amazing strength of flame; and a bit of red hot wood crackled and burned with a prodigious rapidity. But to complete the proof of the superior quality of this air, I introduced a mouse into it; and in a quantity in which, had it been common air, it would have died in about a quarter of an hour; it lived at two different times, a whole hour, and was taken out quite vigorous.” Priestley had discovered Oxygen, or had he? Soon a brilliant French chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, would claim the gas for himself. And so began a rancorous dispute between the British and French chemical establishments, undertaken as chemistry itself was in the process of being rediscovered, even revolutionised.
Simon Schaffer, Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge
Jenny Uglow, Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Warwick
Hasok Chang, Reader in Philosophy of Science at University College London