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[Perspectives] Passionate polymath

Humphry Davy is best known today as a pioneering chemist. In 1799, he was the first scientist—although this term did not exist during Davy’s lifetime—to explore the chemical and physiological properties of nitrous oxide (later dubbed laughing gas), partly by hazardous self-experimentation. During the next decade, Davy discovered the elements potassium and sodium, and was also the first to isolate barium, boron, calcium, magnesium, and strontium. In 1815, after experiments with the gases known as “firedamp” (largely methane) in coal mines, Davy became the inventor of the safety lamp that bears his name.