Initially apprenticed in 1678 to his elder brother as a draper, Hauksbee became Isaac Newton’s lab assistant. In 1703 he was appointed curator, instrument maker and experimentalist of the Royal Society by Newton, who had recently become president of the society and wished to resurrect the Royal Society’s weekly demonstrations.
Until 1705, most of these experiments were air pump experiments of a mundane nature, but Hauksbee then turned to investigating the luminosity of mercury which was known to emit a glow under barometric vacuum conditions.
By 1705, Hauksbee had discovered that if he placed a small amount of mercury in the glass of his modified version of Otto von Guericke's generator, evacuated the air from it to create a mild vacuum and rubbed the ball in order to build up a charge, a glow was visible if he placed his hand on the outside of the ball. This remarkable discovery was unprecedented at the time. This glow was bright enough to read by. It seemed to be similar to St. Elmo's Fire. This effect later became the basis of the gas-discharge lamp, which led to neon lighting and mercury vapor lamps. In 1706 he produced an 'Influence machine' to generate this effect. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society the same year.
Hauksbee continued to experiment with electricity, making numerous observations and developing machines to generate and demonstrate various electrical phenomena. In 1709 he published Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects which summarized much of his scientific work.
He was buried in St Dunstan's-in-the-West, London on 29 April 1713.
The Royal Society Hauksbee Awards, awarded in 2010, were given by the Royal Society to the “unsung heroes of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
- Pumfrey, Stephen (May 2009). "Hauksbee, Francis (bap. 1660, d. 1713)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/12618. Retrieved 2011-12-11. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Burke, James (1978). Connections. London: Macmillan. p. 75. ISBN 0-333-24827-9.
- "Library and Archive Catalogue". Retrieved 2012-03-09.
- Hauksbee, F. (1708). "An Account of an Experiment Touching the Different Densities of the Air, from the Greatest Natural Heat, to the Greatest Natural Cold in This Climate. By Mr. Fr. Hauksbee, F. R. S". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 26 (313–324): 93. doi:10.1098/rstl.1708.0015.
- Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: a study of early Modern Physics (J.L. Heilbron)
- Thebakken.org artifacts
- Corrosion-doctors.org 18th-century electrochemistry
- Thebakken.org Von Guericke's sulfer globe
- Huji.ac.il profile of Von Guericke
- IMSS.fi.it Electrical Machine (credits Hauksbee with the "first true electrical machine was built c. 1700")
- DU.edu Electrostatics at Home
- Arts-et-metiers.net tools of 18th-century electricians
- Hauksbee Awards