1828 Edward Turner

Turner the first Head of the UCL Chemistry Department

So we have a College established, and within it a Chemistry Department, and now we need a Professor. 

We invited Michael Faraday who was at the Royal Institution, but he wrote a long letter in reply saying that he thought he had to stay there two or three more years to repay the debt that he owed them, and the man we appointed was Edward Turner from Edinburgh; our first four Heads of Department, up to 1913, were from Scotland where there were already thriving chemistry departments.

Turner was only 29 when he was appointed. He thought that there was too much hypothesis and too little established fact in chemistry, and he set about establishing analytical methods by which atomic weights could be determined. The slide shows Turner's figures from 1833 and the IUPAC values which are presently accepted, and the agreement is remarkable (see comparison with modern values below). There was at the time a hypothesis (Prout's hypothesis) that all atomic weights were multiples of that of hydrogen, and if the atomic weight of hydrogen was one, then all the others should be integral numbers. Turner was sure of his figures for, for example, chlorine and he proclaimed that "Dr. Prout's hypothesis cannot be upheld".

Turner wrote two books, "The Laws of Chemical Combinations", and, in 1827, the first organic text book, "Elements of Chemistry" and which went to 8 editions with Liebig as editor and gained a European reputation. The frontispiece of the 5th edition, published while he was Professor at UCL in 1834 is shown below (courtesy of Prof Peter Garratt). 

Principles of Chemistry
Cover of Turner's book