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Robert Boyle Life and Legacy

It has been said that Robert Boyle, the ‘Father of Modern Chemistry’, was the most important scientist ever born in Ireland. In fact it has been argued that of all historical figures born in Ireland he had the greatest impact on the course of human history. (See Article by David McWilliams here)

Robert Boyle was born in Lismore Castle on 27th January 1627.  He was the youngest- and favourite- son of the Great Earl of Cork, Richard Boyle and his second wife Catherine Fenton.  Robert spent his early childhood at Lismore before being sent to Eton at the age of 8.  At 11 he was taken out of school and tutored at the Great Earl's new English base, Stalbridge House and shortly after despatched on a Grand Tour of Europe with his tutor and older brother (Francis, aged 15)  before returning to England and devoting his life to writing and scientific research.

In 1655 Boyle moved to Oxford where he joined the Invisible College - a group of natural philosophers that foreshadowed the Royal Society that was founded in 1660. About this time Boyle employed Robert Hooke to help him with his experiments. Together they built the air-pump used in many of Boyle’s most important experiments including the establishing the necessity of air for combustion, for animal breathing, and for the transmission of sound.  Boyle also proved the the inverse relationship between the volume of a gas and its pressure enshrined in science  textbooks across the world as Boyle’s Law.

Robert Boyle was a prolific writer on theology, philosophy as well as the new science. His publications included New Experiments Physio-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects (1660) and his most famous- The Sceptical Chymist (1661). Boyle's Law first appears in the 2nd edition of New Experiments Physio-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects in 1662, Boyle argued that science could and should bring material benefits to mankind and in 1663 published "Some Considerations Touching the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy" - 350 years ago this year!

The Worth Library in Dr Steeven's Hospital Dublin, has some early editions of Boyle's work and has an on-line exhibition on Alchemy and Chemistry featuring Boyle. See here for more

Marsh's Library Dublin also has early Boyle books and other interesting works relating to the history of science. They have also run the wonderful Curious Experiments project, recreating the demonstrations of Boyle Godfrey. Dr Godfrey was named after our Robert Boyle as his father served as a laboratory assistant to Boyle. The experimental displays and this project (separated by 270 years) are very much in the spirit of Boyle's popularisation of science. see here for more

Renactment of Boyle's Life at Lismore Castle.(Photo: Patrick Browne)

The Robert Boyle Centre
The mission of the Robert Boyle Centre is to highlight the important contribution of Waterford-born Robert Boyle, to the development of modern science, and to promote awareness of the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in our culture and society.

Material will be developed and added to promote the public understanding of Boyle's life and legacy.