UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Inside the Turner Lab

Teaching in the Turner Lab

17 June 2013

Edward Turner, the first professor of chemistry at UCL, was an important figure in the history of 19th century science. Appointed to the chair of chemistry soon after the college's foundation, he was also author of an important textbook of the day, his Elements of Chemistry. Turner was a highly skilled experimental chemist, and his meticulous work on atomic weights put him at the centre of a major controversy of the age.

At the time, debate raged about 'Prout's hypothesis', William Prout's theory that all elements' weights were multiples of hydrogen's. Turner's measurements played a major role in the hypothesis being disproved.

Prout's theory fell by the wayside, but it was not quite as wrong as it might have seemed to Turner. In a quirk of history, decades later, all elements were indeed proven to be multiples of something - only that something was not hydrogen. We now know that protons, electrons and neutrons in various combinations make up all the elements of the periodic table.

Today, Turner's legacy is remembered in a major teaching laboratory in UCL Department of Chemistry. The Turner Lab is the heart of UCL's undergraduate chemistry degrees.

In this photo, one of Turner's successors, Professor Andrea Sella, can be seen assisting a student with his work.

Photo credit: O. Usher (UCL MAPS)


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