William Prout

William Prout FRS (January 15, 1785 – April 9, 1850) was an English chemist, physician, and natural theologian. He is remembered today mainly for what is called Prout's hypothesis.

Life and work

Prout was born in Horton, Gloucestershire in 1785. His professional life was spent as a practising physician in London, but he also occupied himself with chemical research. He was an active worker in biological chemistry and carried out many analyses of the secretions of living organisms, which he believed were produced by the breakdown of bodily tissues. In 1823, he discovered that stomach juices contain hydrochloric acid, which can be separated from gastric juice by distillation. In 1827, he proposed the classification of substances in food into carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Prout is better remembered, however, for his researches into physical chemistry. In 1815, based on the tables of atomic weights available at the time, he hypothesized that the atomic weight of every element is an integer multiple of that of hydrogen, suggesting that the hydrogen atom is the only truly fundamental particle, and that the atoms of the other elements are made of groupings of various numbers of hydrogen atoms. While Prout's hypothesis was not borne out by later more-accurate measurements of atomic weights, it was a sufficiently fundamental insight into the structure of the atom that in 1920, Ernest Rutherford chose the name of the newly-discovered proton to, among other reasons, give credit to Prout.

Prout contributed to the improvement of the barometer, and the Royal Society of London adopted his design as a national standard.

Prout wrote the eighth "Bridgewater Treatise", "Chemistry, Meteorology, and the Function of Digestion, considered with reference to Natural Theology". It was in this work that he coined the term "convection" to describe a type of energy transfer. [cite journal | author = Burr, A. C. | title = Notes on the History of the Experimental Determination of the Thermal Conductivity of Gases | journal = Isis | year = 1934 | volume = 21 | pages = 169 – 186 | doi = 10.1086/346837] [cite journal | author = Brock, W. H. | title = William Prout and Barometry | journal = Notes and Record of the Royal Society of London | year = 1970 | volume = 24 | pages = 281 – 294 | doi = 10.1098/rsnr.1970.0020 ]

In 1814, Prout married Agnes Adam of Edinburgh, Scotland, and together they had six children. [cite journal | author = Brock, W. H. | title = Prout's Chemical Bridgewater Treatise | journal = Journal of Chemical Education | year = 1963 | volume = 40 | pages = 652 – 655 ] Prout died in London in 1850.

The "Prout" is the unit of nuclear binding energy, and is 1/12 the binding energy of the deuteron, or 185.5 keV. It is is named after William Prout.

Selected writings

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Honours and activities

* Fellow of the Royal Society (1819)
* Copley Medal (1827)
* Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (1829)

ee also

* Earl of Bridgewater (for other "Bridgewater Treatises")
* Atomic number

References

Further reading

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* [http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/semiempirical.htm The Semiempirical Formula for Atomic Masses]

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