Observations on Different Kinds of Air, bound extract of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 62 pp. 147–256, 1772 [FIRST EDITION OF SEMINAL WORK IN THE DISCOVERY OF PHOTOSYNTHESIS & OXYGEN]. Joseph Priestley.

Observations on Different Kinds of Air, bound extract of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 62 pp. 147–256, 1772 [FIRST EDITION OF SEMINAL WORK IN THE DISCOVERY OF PHOTOSYNTHESIS & OXYGEN]

London: Printer to the Royal Society, 1772. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION OF PRIESTLEY’S SEMINAL WORK: THE DISCOVERY OF THE “RESTORATION” OF AIR BY VEGETATION -- AN EARLY & CRITICAL MILESTONE IN THE TWO & A HALF CENTURIES OF RESEARCH IT TOOK TO UNDERSTAND THE MECHANISMS IN THE PROCESS WE NOW CALL PHOTOSYNTHESIS.

Priestley’s 1772 paper embodies many of the discoveries critical to understanding the process of photosynthesis. Of all the achievements presented in this paper, “The most surprising... was the discovery of the 'restoration' of air by vegetation” – that green plants, in this case mint, can somehow purify & revive the air in a sealed container in which combustion or respiration has taken place to the extent that the container can again support life (Schofield, The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley).

Priestley’s discovery revealed the essence of photosynthesis: plants consume carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Arguably the most important biological process on earth, photosynthesis maintains aerobic life on Earth. Priestley’s experiment demonstrated something that, in a way, sounds so simple but is anything but: out planet is livable because plants consume carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.

A question that “had long plagued eighteenth-century scientists: how is the atmosphere repurified after being rendered noxious by respiration and by the combustion or decay of vegetable and animal matter, so that it continues to support life? The eventual answer was photosynthesis, the process whereby the action of sunlight permits a plant to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, create organic matter, and release oxygen. Priestley did not glimpse the entire process, but [in this paper] he was demonstrating one important element -- that plant life (his sprigs of mint) was the purifying agent, which extracted from the air an unwholesome ‘effluvium,’ now known as carbon dioxide” (Nash, Plants and the Atmosphere, Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science, 1957).

Priestley’s paper was the result of five years of ingenious experiments with gases. His research “led to the discovery of the intimate relationship between plant and animal life” (Martin, Priestley’s Bell Jar, Extreme Physiology, 1, 2012). In his principal experiment, Priestley used flames and animals’ breath to, as he put it, “injure” the air in a sealed jar, making it unwholesome to breathe (as demonstrated by a mouse he placed in the jar & that he observed perish).

But when he repeated the experiment with sprigs of mint in the jar, “neither did the animal die ‘nor was it at all inconvenient to a mouse’” (ibid). We know now that the fire and respiration Priestley employed in the first part of the experiment used up oxygen and gave off carbon dioxide – and that the mint reversed both processes. What we now understand as photosynthesis took up the carbon dioxide, converted it into plant tissue, and gave off oxygen as a by-product. Priestley “had made the breakthrough that plants produce a substance which is life-giving to animals; he then went on to describe ‘dephlogisticated air’” – soon to be known as ‘oxygen’ (ibid). Item #1624

CONDITION & DETAILS: London: Lockyer Davis, Printer to the Royal Society. 1772 Philosophical Transactions. First edition, complete bound extract inclusive of original wide margins and folding plate. (9 X 7 inches; 225 x 175mm). [4], 147-264, [2]. The extract is handsomely bound in half-calf over gilt-ruled marbled paper boards. Aged paper label on the front board. Four raised bands at the spine, gilt-lettered with gilt-tooling in the compartments. Tightly and solidly bound. Bright & very clean. Near pristine condition.

Price: $2,000.00

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