Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brodie, Benjamin Collins (1817-1880)

BRODIE, Sir BENJAMIN COLLINS, the younger (1817–1880), chemist, was the eldest son of Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie [see Brodie, Sir Benjamin Collins, 1783-1862]. He was born in Sackville Street, Piccadilly, London, in 1817. Brodie was educated at Harrow and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1838. He always manifested a strong love for scientific inquiry, and especially devoted his attention to chemistry. In 1843 his first original paper appeared in the 'Proceedings of the Ashmolean Society,' which was on the 'Synthesis of the Chemical Elements,' based on an examination which involved a long-continued and delicate investigation. In 1852 he had completed this inquiry, and published the results in a communication to the same society. In 1848 Brodie's 'Investigations of the Chemical Nature of Wax' appeared in the 'Philosophical Transactions.' In this year he married the daughter of the late John Vincent Thompson, serjeant-at-law. From this period to 1855 Brodie was actively engaged in chemical inquiries, many of them of a difficult character. In the 'Philosophical Transactions ' for 1850 will be found an elaborate memoir 'On the Conditions of Certain Elements at the Moment of Chemical Change,' which is an example of well-devised experimental research and of very close observation. The 'Chemical Society's Journal' for 1851 contains a paper by him, entitled 'Observations on the Constitution of the Alcohol Radical and on the Formation of Ethyl.' In the 'Royal Institution Proceedings' for the same year appeared a paper by him 'On the Allotropic Changes of certain Elements,' and two others, requiring equally delicate and searching investigations, and involving philosophical deductions of a high class. Brodie, having established his character as a high class inquirer into some abstruse branches of chemistry, was in 1865 appointed professor of chemistry in the university of Oxford, and he was president of the Chemical Society in the years 1859 and 1860.

In addition to inquiries of considerable interest on the elements, sulphur, iodine, and phosphorus, which were communicated to learned societies between 1851 and 1855, Brodie was engaged on an investigation into the allotropic states of carbon, especially of ordinary charcoal, and graphite or plumbago. This led to the discovery of an important process for the purification of graphite, which was of considerable technical value. He published the results of this inquiry in the 'Annales de Chimie' for 1855 as a 'Note sur un nouveau procédé pour la purification et la désagrégation du Graphite.' This was followed in 1859 by a memoir 'On the Atomic Weight of Graphite' in the 'Philosophical Transactions.' The conclusions to which Brodie arrived were that carbon in the form of graphite functions is a distinct element, for which he proposed the term graphon; that it forms a marked system of combinations, into which it enters with a determinate atomic weight (33). Previously to this, Brodie had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

His next inquiries of interest were connected with the peroxide of barium and its influence on the reduction of metallic oxides on the formation of the peroxides of the radicals of the organic acids and on the oxidation and deoxidation effected by the peroxide of hydrogen. These investigations may be regarded as having brought Brodie's chemical researches to a termination. We find no record of any work of interest between 1862 and 1880, when he died. In 1862 he succeeded his father in the baronetcy, and in 1872 he was created hon. D.C.L. at Oxford. His most important discovery was certainly that of graphitic acid, and the modified form of carbon which he detected in graphite and its acid. In relation to his special investigations Brodie published seventeen papers, all of them marked by the thoroughness and refinement of the modes of research adopted.

[Royal Society's Proceedings; Philosophical Transactions; Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers; Journal of the Chemical Society; Annales de Chimie.]

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