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Papin, Denis

PAPIN, DENIS (1647-c.1712), French physicist, one of the inventors of the steam-engine, was a native of Blois, where he was born on the 22nd of August 1647. In 1661 or 1662 he entered upon the study of medicine at the university of Angers, where he graduated in 1669. Some time prior to 1674 he removed to Paris and assisted Christiaan Huygens in his experiments with the air-pump, the results of which (Experiences du Vuidc) were pubhshed at Paris in that year, and also in the form of five papers by Huygens and Papin jointly, in the Philosophical Transactions for 1675. Shortly after the pubhcation of the Experiences, Papin, who had crossed to London, was hospitably received by Robert Boyle, whom he assisted in his laboratory and with his writings. About this time also he introduced into the air-pump the improvement of making it with double barrels, and replacing by the two valves the turncock hitherto used; he is said, moreover, to have been the first to use the plate and receiver. Subsequently he invented the condensing-pump, and in j6So he was admitted, on Boyle's nomination, to the Royal Society. In the previous year he had exhibited to the society his famous " steam digester, or engine for softening bones," afterwards described in a tract published at Paris and entitled La Maniere d'amollir les os el de faire couire toules sortes dc viandes en fori pen de lems el a pcu defrais, avcc iint description de la marmile, ses proprietes el ses usages. This device consisted of a vessel provided with a tightly fitting lid, so that under pressure its contents could be raised to a high temperature; a safety valve was used, for the first time, to guard against an excessive rise in the pressure. After further experiments with the digester he accepted an invitation to Venice to take part in the work of the recently founded Academy of the Philosophical and Mathematical Sciences; here he remained until 1684, when he returned to London and received from the Royal Society an appointment as " temporary curator of experiments," with a small salary. In this capacity he carried on numerous and varied investigations. He discovered a siphon acting in the same manner as the " sipho wirtembergicus " (Phil. Tr., 1685), and also constructed a model of an engine for raising water from a river by means of pumps worked by a water-wheel driven by the current. In November 1687 he was appointed to the chair of mathematics in the university of Marburg, and here he remained until 1696, when he removed to Cassel. From the time of his settlement in Germany he carried on an active correspondence with Huygens and Leibnitz, which is still preserved, and in one of his letters to Leibnitz, in 1698, he mentions that he is engaged on a machine for raising water to a great height by the force of fire; in a later communication he speaks also of a little carriage he had constructed to be propelled by this force. Again in 1702 he wrote about a steam " balHsta," which he anticipated would " promptly compel France to make an enduring peace." In 1705 Leibnitz sent Papin a sketch of Thomas Savery's engine for raising water, and this stimulated him to further exertions, which resulted two years afterwards in the pubhcation of the Ars nova ad aquam ignis adminicido efficacissime elevandam (Cassel, 1707), in which his high-pressure boiler and its applications are described (see Steam Engine). In 1707 he resolved to quit Cassel for London, and on the 24th of September of that year he sailed with his family from Cassel in an ingeniously constructed boat, propelled by paddle-wheels, to be worked by the crew, with which he apparently expected to reach the mouth of the Weser. At Miinden, however, the vessel was confiscated at the instance of the boatmen, who objected to the invasion of their exclusive privileges in the Weser navigation. Papin, on his arrival in London, found himself without resources and almost without friends; applications through Sir Hans Sloane to the Royal Society for grants of money were made in vain, and he died in total obscurity, probably about the beginning of 17 12. His name is attached to the principal street of his native town, Blois, were also he is commemorated by a bronze statue.

The published writings of Papin, besides those already referred to, consist for the most part of a large number of papers, principally on hydraulics and pneumatics, contributed to the Journal des savans, the Nouvelles de la republique des leUres, the Philosophical Transactions, and the Acta ertiditorum ; many of them were collected by himself into a Fasciculus dissertationum (Marburg, 1695), of which he published also a translation into French, Recueil de diverses pieces touchant quelques nouvelles ttiachities (Cassel, 1695). His correspondence with Leibnitz and Huygens, along with a biography, was published by Dr Ernst Gerland (Leibnizens und Huygens Briefwechsel mil Papin, nebst der Biographic Papins (Berlin, i88r). See also L. de la Saussaye and E. Pean, La Vie et les ouvrages de Denis Papin (Paris, 1869); and Baron Ernout, Denis Papin, sa vie et ses ouvrages (4th ed., 1888).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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