Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac


Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (UK: /ɡˈlsæk/,[1][2] US: /ˌɡləˈsæk/,[3][4] French: [ʒɔzɛf lwi ɡɛlysak]; 6 December 1778 – 9 May 1850) was a French chemist and physicist. He is known mostly for his discovery that water is made of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen (with Alexander von Humboldt), for two laws related to gases, and for his work on alcohol–water mixtures, which led to the degrees Gay-Lussac used to measure alcoholic beverages in many countries.

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac
Joseph Louis Gay

6 December 1778 (1778-12-06)
Died9 May 1850(1850-05-09) (aged 71)
Alma materÉcole polytechnique
Known forGay-Lussac's law
Combustion analysis
Scientific career
Gay-Lussac Signature.svg


Gay-Lussac was born at Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat in the present-day department of Haute-Vienne.[5]

The father of Joseph Louis Gay, Anthony Gay, son of a doctor, was a lawyer and prosecutor and worked as a judge in Noblat Bridge.[6] Father of two sons and three daughters, he owned much of the Lussac village and usually added the name of this hamlet of the Haute-Vienne to his name, following a custom of the Ancien Régime. Towards the year 1803, father and son finally adopted the name Gay-Lussac.[7] During the Revolution, on behalf of the Law of Suspects, his father, former king's attorney, was imprisoned in Saint Léonard from 1793 to 1794.

He received his early education at the hands of the Catholic Abbey of Bourdeix, though later in life became an atheist.[8][9] In the care of the Abbot of Dumonteil he began his education in Paris, finally entering the École Polytechnique in 1798.

Three years later, Gay-Lussac transferred to the École des Ponts et Chaussées, and shortly afterward was assigned to C. L. Berthollet as his assistant. In 1804 he was appointed répétiteur (demonstrator) to Antoine François Fourcroy at the École Polytechnique, whom he succeeded in 1809 as professor of chemistry. From 1809 to 1832, he was also the professor of physics at the Sorbonne, a post which he only resigned for the chair of chemistry at the Jardin des Plantes. In 1821, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1831 he was elected to represent Haute-Vienne in the chamber of deputies, and in 1839 he entered the chamber of peers. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1832.[10]

Gay-Lussac married Geneviève-Marie-Joseph Rojot in 1809. He had first met her when she worked as a linen draper's shop assistant and was studying a chemistry textbook under the counter. He fathered five children, of whom the eldest (Jules) became assistant to Justus Liebig in Giessen. Some publications by Jules are mistaken as his father's today since they share the same first initial (J. Gay-Lussac).

Gay-Lussac died in Paris, and his grave is there at Père Lachaise Cemetery. His name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower.


Gay-Lussac and Biot ascend in a hydrogen balloon, 1804. Illustration from the late 19th century.
  • 1802 – Gay-Lussac first published the law that at constant pressure, the volume of any gas increases in proportion to its absolute temperature. Since in his paper announcing the law he cited earlier unpublished work on this subject by Jacques Charles, the law is usually called Charles's Law, though some sources use the expression Gay-Lussac's Law. This law was independently and nearly simultaneously stated by John Dalton.
  • 1804 – He and Jean-Baptiste Biot made a hydrogen balloon ascent to a height of 7,016 metres (23,018 ft) in an early investigation of the Earth's atmosphere. He wanted to collect samples of the air at different heights to record differences in temperature and moisture.
  • 1805 – Together with his friend and scientific collaborator Alexander von Humboldt, he discovered that the composition of the atmosphere does not change with decreasing pressure (increasing altitude). They also discovered that water is formed by two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen (by volume).
  • 1808 – He was the co-discoverer of boron.
  • 1808 - Discovery and publication of the law of combining volumes.
  • 1810 – In collaboration with Louis Thenard, he developed a method for quantitative elemental analysis by measuring the CO2 and O2 evolved by reaction with potassium chlorate. He also summarised the equation of alcoholic fermentation.
  • 1811 – He recognized iodine as a new element, described its properties, and suggested the name iode.[11]
  • 1815 – He synthesized cyanogen, determined its empirical formula and named it.
  • 1824 – He developed an improved version of the burette that included a side arm, and coined the terms "pipette" and "burette" in an 1824 paper about the standardization of indigo solutions.[12]


  • In Paris, a street and a hotel near the Sorbonne are named after him as are a square and a street in his birthplace, Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat.
  • In Australia, the "Gay-Lussac Room" at AB Mauri STC, Sydney was named after him in honour of his work with yeast fermentation.

Academic lineageEdit

Gravesite of Gay-Lussac
Academic genealogy
Notable teachers Notable students


  • Chemistry courses of the École Polytechnique, Vol.1&2
  • Lessons of Physics, Faculty of Sciences in Paris, (November 6, 1827, March 18, 1828)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Gay-Lussac". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  2. ^ "Gay-Lussac's law". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2021-05-11.
  3. ^ "Gay-Lussac". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  4. ^ "Gay-Lussac". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gay-Lussac, Joseph Louis" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 11 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 542.
  6. ^ Biographical Dictionary Ancient and Modern, Volume 16, Michaud
  7. ^ Biographical sketch by Gay de Vernon
  8. ^ "December 6: Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac". Freethought Almanac. Retrieved 2016-02-04.
  9. ^ Ramesh Chopra (2005). Academic Dictionary Of Philosophy. Gyan Books. p. 143. ISBN 978-81-8205-224-6. Renowned French chemist. He was one of the greatest chemists in Europe at the time. He made innumerable discoveries in the science, and even the restored royalty made him a Peer of France, although he worked politically with the anti-clericals. He was closely associated with Arago and shared his atheism.
  10. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter G" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  11. ^ Ede, A. (2006). The Chemical Element: A Historical Perspective. Greenwood Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-313-33304-1.
  12. ^ Rosenfeld, L. (1999). Four Centuries of Clinical Chemistry. CRC Press. pp. 72–75. ISBN 90-5699-645-2.

Further readingEdit

  • "Joseph Louis Gay-Lusac (1778–1850)—Physicist and Fire Balloonist". JAMA. 187 (10): 771. 1964. doi:10.1001/jama.1964.03060230099030. PMID 14094304.
  • Partington, J. R. (1950). "J. L. Gay-Lussac (1778–1850)". Nature. 165 (4201): 708–709. Bibcode:1950Natur.165..708P. doi:10.1038/165708a0. PMID 15416794. S2CID 36973995.
  • Gay-Lussac, L. J.; von Humboldt, A. (1805). "Expérience sur les moyens oediométriques et sur la proportion des principes constituents de l'atmosphère". Journal de Physique. 60.
  • Crosland, M. (1978). Gay-Lussac, Scientist and Bourgeois. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-21979-5.
  • Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, French chemist (1778–1850) from the Encyclopædia Britannica, 10th Edition (1902)
  • Rue Gay-Lussac, Paris
  • Gay-Lussac's article (1809) "On the combination of gaseous substances", online and analyzed on BibNum (for English, click 'à télécharger').