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Famous King's People

John Frederic Daniell


The chemist John Frederic Daniell (1790-1845) was a self-taught polymath who acquired a precocious interest in chemistry after a period of work in the sugar-refining factory of a relative.



Daniell attended medical lectures at Windmill Street in London and was elected to the Royal Society in 1814, aged just 24, as a result of his pioneering meteorological and climatological research. His experiments were attended by many of the leading scientists of the day. He built up a considerable collection of rocks and minerals reflecting his interest in geology, which he augmented with samples gathered during a tour of the British Isles in 1815.

Interest in meteorology

Daniell's meteorological observations began in earnest in 1820 when he developed a new device, the dew-point hygrometer. There followed work on the atmosphere of hothouses and later in standardising meteorological observations throughout the British Empire.

Daniell also became a practical chemist of distinction. He promoted the use of gas lighting, helped to establish the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and acted as Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society from 1839-45.

The Daniell constant cell

Daniell's most important contribution to science followed his appointment as Professor of Chemistry at King's in 1831 when he developed one of the earliest types of battery, the Daniell constant cell, a significant improvement on the existing Voltaic cell. It provided a reliable supply of electricity necessary for the rapid growth of the Anglo-American telegraph network during the 1830s and 40s. Daniell was awarded the Copley and Royal medals by the Royal Society for his contribution to the study of electricity and electrolysis.

Lectures at King's

Daniell's lectures at King's were extremely popular, reflecting his flair for demonstration allied to meticulous habits of observation and experiment.

His friends and colleagues included:

  • Michael Faraday
  • Joseph Gay-Lussac
  • Charles Babbage 
  • John Ross - polar navigator.

Daniell collapsed and died at a meeting of the Royal Society in 1845.

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