Thomas Graham (chemist)

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Thomas Graham
Thomas Graham Litho.JPG
Thomas Graham in 1856
Born (1805-12-20)20 December 1805
Glasgow, Scotland
Died 16 September 1869(1869-09-16) (aged 63)
Nationality Scottish
Fields Chemistry
Institutions Royal College of Science and Technology
University College London
Known for Graham's Law
Notable awards Royal Medal (1838, 1850)
Copley Medal (1862)

Thomas Graham FRS FRSE DCL (20 December 1805[1] – 16 September 1869) was a nineteenth-century Scottish chemist who is best-remembered today for his pioneering work in dialysis and the diffusion of gases. He is regarded as the father of colloid chemistry.[2]


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 Prof Thomas Thomson (who was strangely impressed and influenced by this young man).[3] He left the University after receiving his M.A. in 1824.[4]

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. 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), the Royal College of Science and Technology and the University of London.

In 1828 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh his proposer being Edward Turner. He won the Society's Keith Medal for the period 1831-33.[5]

Graham also 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 as the Master of the Mint, where he stayed from 1855 until his death. He was the last person to hold that position.[6]

He died in Gordon Square in London but his body was returned to Glasgow for burial in the family plot at Glasgow Cathedral.[7]

He did not marry and had no children.


  • On the Law of Diffusion of Gases (1833)

Scientific work[edit]

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,[8] and the second regarding gas effusion.[9] 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.[clarification needed][dubious ] 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 its founder.[6]

Honours, activities, and recognition[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir John Herschel, Bt
Master of the Mint
Office abolished