Thomas Graham (chemist)

Thomas Graham FRS FRSE (20 December 1805[1] – 16 September 1869) was a British chemist known for his pioneering work in dialysis and the diffusion of gases. He is regarded as one of the founders of colloid chemistry.[2]

Thomas Graham
Lithograph portrait of Thomas Graham in 1856
Thomas Graham in 1856
Born20 December 1805
Glasgow, Scotland
Died16 September 1869 (aged 63)
London, UK
Known forGraham's Law
AwardsRoyal Medal (1838, 1850)
Copley Medal (1862)
Scientific career
InstitutionsAnderson's Institution
University College London
Thomas Graham (chemist) signature


Graham was born in Glasgow, and educated at Glasgow High School. Graham's father was a successful textile manufacturer, and wanted his son to enter into the Church of Scotland. Instead, defying his father's wishes, Graham became a student at the University of Glasgow in 1819. There he developed a strong interest in chemistry, studying under Professor Thomas Thomson, who was impressed and influenced by the young man. He left the University after receiving his MA in 1824.[3]

He later studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and then briefly taught chemistry at the Portland Street Medical School and at the Glasgow Mechanics' Institution. In 1828 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, his proposer was Edward Turner. He won the Society's Keith Medal for the period 1831–33.[3]

He later became a professor of chemistry at numerous colleges, including the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow (appointed 1830 as the Freeland Chair of Chemistry) and the Royal College of Science and Technology before moving to take up a professorship at the University of London, where Graham founded the Chemical Society of London in 1841. In 1866, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

His final position was the Master of the Mint, where he stayed from 1855 until his death. He was the last person to hold that position.[4]

He died in Gordon Square in London but his body was returned to Glasgow for burial in the family plot at Glasgow Cathedral.[3]

He did not marry and had no children.


  • On the Law of Diffusion of Gases (1833)

Scientific work

Thomas Graham is known for his studies on the behaviour of gases, which resulted in his formulation of two relationships, both since becoming known as "Graham's Laws," the first regarding gas diffusion,[5] and the second regarding gas effusion.[6] In the former case, Graham deduced that when measured repeatedly under the same conditions of pressure and temperature, the rate of diffusive mixing of a gas is inversely proportional to the square root of its density, and given the relationship between density and molar mass, also inversely proportional to the square root of its molar mass. In the same way, in the latter case, regarding effusion of a gas through a pin hole into a vacuum, Graham deduced that the rate of effusion of a gas is inversely proportional to the square root of its molar mass. These two are sometimes referred to as a combined law (describing both phenomena).

In applied areas, Graham also made fundamental discoveries related to dialysis, a process used in research and industrial settings, as well as in modern health care. Graham's study of colloids resulted in his ability to separate colloids and crystalloids using a so-called "dialyzer", using technology that is a rudimentary forerunner of technology in modern kidney dialysis machines. These studies were foundational in the field known as colloid chemistry, and Graham is credited as one of its founder.[4]

Honours, activities, and recognition

See also


  1. ^ "Thomas Graham | British chemist". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  2. ^ "Colloid | Physics". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  4. ^ a b Pallab Ghosh (2009). Colloid and Interface Science. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-81-203-3857-9.
  5. ^ E. L. Cussler (15 January 2009). Diffusion: Mass Transfer in Fluid Systems. Cambridge University Press. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-0-521-87121-1.
  6. ^ James S. Trefil (2003). The Nature of Science: An A-Z Guide to the Laws and Principles Governing Our Universe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 187–. ISBN 0-618-31938-7.

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir John Herschel, Bt
Master of the Mint
Office abolished
Robert Lowe as Chancellor of the Exchequer

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.