The Discovery of Oxygen
When did we discover we needed oxygen for respiration?
We can’t live without oxygen…literally. Of course, everybody knows that. However, that wasn’t the case in the mid-1700s. People were unaware of a substance called “oxygen” that supported respiration.
Who discovered oxygen?
“Oxygen” was discovered almost simultaneously in three parts of the world. So, there is a lot of contention regarding who discovered it first. The major credit though goes to Joseph Priestley as he was the first one to publish his findings.
Here is the series of events that let the discovery of “oxygen” as we know it now.
Timeline of discovery of oxygen
In 1972 Carl W. Scheele from Sweden heated several compounds including potassium nitrate, manganese oxide, and mercury oxide and found they released a gas which enhanced combustion. He called this gas “fire air,” but did not publish his findings.
How was oxygen discovered as an element?
Then, in 1974 Joseph Priestly, an English chemist, independently conducted an experiment using a 12-inch-wide glass “burning lens,” with which he focused sunlight on a lump of reddish mercuric oxide in an inverted glass container. He found that the gas emitted, was “five or six times as good as common air.” He called this gas “dephlogisticated air”. In later tests, it caused a flame to burn intensely and kept a mouse alive about four times as long as a similar quantity of air. He published his findings in the same year.
How did oxygen get its name?
Later, Antoine Lavoisier, a French chemist, also conducted experiments which lead him to the discovery of “oxygen”. In 1775, he was the first to recognize it as an element, and coined its name “oxygen”- which comes from a Greek word that means “acid-former”.