Prof Frank James, a world-leading expert on all things Faraday, delves into the Royal Institution Archives to reveal one of the very few failures of the great scientist.
From 1834 to 1835 Faraday was seeking to isolate the element Fluorine through the electro-chemical techniques used by Humphry Davy to isolate Sodium and Potassium (also at the Ri) in 1807.
Faraday's kept a meticulous set of laboratory notes and paragraph 1477 begins with the promising phrase "Worked for fluorine". However, his attempt to disassociate fluorine from molten lead fluoride (PbF2) -- itself a very dangerous substance -- was never successful due to the extreme reactivity of Fluorine. On release it reacted almost immediately with the oxygen in the air and could not be isolated.
The problem was only solved around fifty years later by the French Chemist Henri Mossain in 1886, a feat for which he received the Nobel Prize.
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