The discovery of N20

N20, or nitrous oxide, is a colorless, odorless gas that is commonly produced through a range of different industrial and natural processes. Since it was found, nitrous oxide has developed greatly as one of the most frequently used gases, and now contributes significantly to the overall production of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, the discovery of nitrous oxide is not recent. In fact, the finding of nitrous oxide can be attributed to a time around two centuries back, in the 1700s.

Nitrous Oxide was found in 1722 by a famous English scientist by the name of Joseph Priestley. Priestley was a famous clergyman as well, and his work contributed to the isolation of several different gases apart from nitrous oxide. Joseph Priestley was an admirer of Stephen Hales, and frequently used his apparatus in order to collect different gases and research on them. Hales had created an apparatus device that could be used to condense and collect gases over water. Previously, Hales had published the belief that all gases were derived from air. However, this was rendered untrue by Joseph Black, who carried out a famous investigation in the 1750s, finding out the characteristics of different gases such as various carbonates and magnesium oxide.

When Priestley began conducting experiments, he made use of the apparatus that had been created by Hales, while his work was based heavily upon the theories put forth by Joseph Black. Joseph Priestley created nitrous oxide placing iron filings in a chamber of ammonium nitrate, and then heating the latter. By using Hales apparatus, he was able to pass off the gas that was released through the water, which effectively removed any toxic byproducts that might have been produced. Priestley thought that he could use the gas as an agent for preservation, but he failed.

However, an account that was later found by Joseph Black stated the whole manufacturing process of N20, with written ideas regarding the nature of the gas, etc. However, Priestley was very confused regarding the nature of the gas, and he soon moved on to work on other gases, leaving his work to be used by other scientists.

After the discovery by Priestley, the next major experiments held through the use of nitrous oxide were undertaken by Humphrey Davy. He was working at the Pneumatic Institute of Bristol, England when he decided to find out the different properties of the gas, and how it responded when inhaled by humans. The whole institute was based on the fact that the gases which had been discovered within the past century could have medical applications. Humphrey experimented in various ways; sometimes releasing the gas on the visitors and then noting the effects. He soon realized that the gas had various euphoric effects; making people laugh excessively if released in large amounts. By 1800, at the tender age of just 21, Humphrey published his classical text, detailing the recreational and physiological use as well as the nature of nitrous oxide and the effects that it had.