Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Chemical History of a Candle

The "Chemical History Of A Candle" by Michael Faraday, is perhaps the most popular science book ever published. It has been published continuously since 1861. By design, the book is a series of lecture notes given by Faraday at his annual Christmas Lectures, beginning around 1849 in London. Faraday was a science celebrity in his lifetime, but much more so than those we have today because they lack such career achievements in science as his.

In this simple series of lectures, Faraday ties together much of what was know about chemistry and physics, simply by considering a burning candle. What I love about this first lecture is the way Faraday demonstrates what a perfect storage medium of energy the wax candle is. Hydrocarbons are our friends -- not something to be demonized.



  1. Kudos to Bill Hammack for producing this series. Especially for keeping the English language of Faraday's time alive.

  2. Very cool, chick. I watched 2 and 3 for now. Made me think of the time I read that when you burn logs in the winter you are releasing stored up sunshine.

  3. Deborah, you reminded me of a real life conversation I had with my kids years ago. We were sitting around a fire at the beach. As we're all staring into the fire, suddenly a part of the log flares up:

    Me: Did you see that? Where does that energy come from?

    Son: Hydrogen?

    Me: You think there's hydrogen inside the log?

    Son: No

    Me: What's in the log that burns?

    Son: Wood

    Me: Where does the wood come from?

    Son: The tree makes it

    Me: Where does the tree get energy?

    Daughter: From the sun!

    Me: Yes!

    Son: But isn't the sun hydrogen?

  4. We will light our home with candles only tonight (Christmas Eve) for several hours after darkness falls, during which a most beautiful quiet will descend, transcend and ascend, or better yet settle on our home. We started doing this when the boys were small and filled with energy they could barely handle and contain themselves; and we discovered the lights from the candles used during supper changed the energy in them and in the room. Since then, we've come to look forward to this time of quiet peace and beauty.