|Description||Black was born in Bordeaux, France where his father was a factor in the wine trade. In 1744 he went to Glasgow University. He transferred to Edinburgh University in 1752 and wrote a thesis on magnesia alba, graduating MD in 1754. |
The Edinburgh professor of chemistry, Andrew Plummer, died in 1756 and Black's former Glasgow teacher, Cullen, was appointed in his place. This allowed Black to apply for the Glasgow lectureship. He was successful and later he was elevated to the title of professor. His main research interests in Glasgow, Scotland were conducted on the properties of heat. Black introduced the term 'latent heat' and the concept of 'specific heat'. He became friends with James Watt and helped to finance Watt's early endeavours at Glasgow, Scotland.
Black did not vary the basic structure of the lecture series throughout his teaching career. Introductory lectures consisted of definitions and an outline history of chemistry. Following this there were four sections: the general effects of heat (expansion, fluidity, and inflammation); the general effects of mixture; chemical apparatus; and the 'chemical history' of bodies. This last, and largest, section was divided into salts, earths, inflammable substances, metals, and waters. The lectures were published after Black's death.
After he had taught for only a few years at Glasgow, Scotland efforts were made to attract Black back to Edinburgh, Scotland. In a complex series of moves which involved his former teacher, Cullen, the chair of medicine and chemistry was vacated and Black was appointed to it in 1766.
Black had originally trained as a physician and he practised, to a very limited extent, throughout his career. He was closely involved in the the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. He served as a manager to the infirmary on four occasions between 1771 and 1794 and acted, briefly, as physician to the infirmary. Black was admitted a member of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1757, and as a fellow of the Edinburgh Royal College in 1767 where he served as its president from 1788 to 1790. He was a founding fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and was elected a member of the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg, the Société Royale de Médecine and the Académie Royale des Sciences of France.
Black ceased teaching in 1796, handing over to his chosen successor, Thomas Charles Hope (1766-1844), son of John Hope (1725-1786), professor of botany. Though Black's fame was widespread, this did not arise from self-promotion. He steadfastly refused to publish his work, though urged to do so by his friends. He wrote only two really significant papers for publication: the MD thesis (in Latin), De humore acido a cibis orto, et magnesia alba (1754), and the much developed further paper, 'Experiments upon magnesia alba, quicklime, and some other alcaline substances' in Essays and Observations, Physical and Literary (1756). After what may have been a heart attack he died on 6 December 1799 at Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, and was buried on 13 December in Greyfriars churchyard.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Lectures, c1770-c1786