Chemical Element: hydrogen

(Greek: hydor, "water", plus gen, "born", "forming"; gas)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: H
Atomic number: 1
Year discovered: 1766

Discovered by: Henry Cavendish (1731-1810), English chemist and physicist.

  • Robert Boyle (1627-1691), English chemist and physicist, published a paper, “New experiments touching the relation between flame and air” in 1671, in which he described the reaction between iron filings and dilute acids that resulted in the evolution of gaseous hydrogen, “inflammable solution of Mars” [iron].
  • It was only much later that it was recognized as an element by Henry Cavendish, who independently discovered nitrogen as well, in 1766, when he collected it over mercury and described it as “inflammable air from metals”.
  • Cavendish found that some metals, when acted on by acid, liberated a gas that was highly inflammable and which he therefore called “fire air”.
  • Early experimenters, notably Boyle (1661), had obtained the gas, but Cavendish was the first to study it carefully and report on its properties, so he is usually given the credit for having discovered it.
  • Cavendish accurately described hydrogen’s properties but erroneously thought that the gas originated from the metal rather than from the acid.
  • Hydrogen was named by French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794), who is universally considered the “father of modern chemistry”.
  • Deuterium gas, made up from deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen, was discovered, in 1931, by Harold Urey, a professor of chemistry at Chicago and California.
  • Hydrogen is present in almost all animal and vegetable matter, in compounds in which it is joined to carbon and other elements.
  • In the form of hydrocarbons, it is a constituent of petroleum and coal and is contained in all acids.
  • The first industrial use of hydrogen was the inflation of balloons by Jacques A. C. Charles in 1783.
  • Liquid hydrogen is used in the laboratory to produce extremely low temperatures.

Name in other languages:

French: hydrogène

German: Wasserstoff

Italian: idrogeno

Spanish: hidrógeno

Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.

A special unit about words that include chemo-, chem- may be seen here.