Robert Boyle is considered both the founder of modern chemistry and the greatest
English scientist to live during the first thirty years of the existence of the Royal Society.
He was not only a chemist and a physicist as we know him to be, but also
an avid theologian, a philanthropist, an essayist, and a beginner in medicine. Born in
Lismore, Ireland to Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork, and Katherine Fenton, his second
wife, Boyle was the youngest son in a family of fourteen. However he was not
shortchanged of anything. After private tutoring at home for eight years, Robert Boyle
was sent to Eton College where he studied for four years. At the age of twelve, Boyle
traveled to the Continent, as it was referred to at the time. There he found a private tutor
by the name of Marcombes in Geneva. While traveling between Italy, France, and
England, Boyle was being tutored in the polite arts, philosophy, theology, mathematics,
As the years went by, Boyle became more and more interested in medicine. His
curiosity in this field led him to chemistry. At first Boyle was mainly interested in the facet
of chemistry that dealt with the preparation of drugs, but soon he became genuinely
interested in the subject and started to study it in great detail. His studies led him to
Oxford where he joined such scientists as John Wilkins and John Wallis. Together in
1660, they founded the Royal Society of London for the Advancement of Science.
From this point onwards, Boyle seriously undertook the reformation of science.
For centuries scientists had been explaining the unknown with the simple explanation that
God made it that way. Though Boyle did not argue with this, he did believe that there was
a scientific explanation for God’s doings. Boyle’s point of view can be seen by his dealings
with the elements. At this time it was thought that an element was not only the simplest
body to which something could be broken down, but also a necessary component of all
bodies. Meaning that if oil was an element, it would not be able to be broken down, and it
would be found in everything. Boyle did not accept this theory, whether it referred to the
earth, air, fire, the water of the Aristotelians, the salt, sulfur, and mercury of the
Paracelsans, or the phlegm, oil, spirit, acid, and alkali of later chemists. He did not believe
that these elements were truly fundamental in their nature. Boyle thought that the only
things common in all bodies were corpuscles, atom-like structures that were created by
God and that occupy all void space. He began to perform experiments, concentrating
on the color changes that took place in reactions. He started to devise a system of
classification based on the properties of...