Priestley’s first scientific work, The History of Electricity, was encouraged by Benjamin Franklin, who he had met in London. With these urgings from his new, greatly influential friend, Priestley began to perform experiments. At first they were merely to reproduce those in other reports and experiments done by other scientists. As he discovered things and became more scientifically adept, he did experiments to answer questions of his own. In the 1770s he began his most famous scientific research on the nature and properties of gases. At that time, he was living next to a brewery, which provided him with plenty of carbon dioxide to experiment on. His first chemical-related publication was a description of how to carbonate water, in imitation of some naturally occurring bubbly mineral waters. Priestley began examining all the “airs” that might be released from different substances. In doing so, he made soda. Many, following Aristotle’s teachings, still believed there was only one “air.” The four elements of the world were air, fire, water, and earth. By making his own equipment and carefully manipulating the gases, Priestley isolated and characterized eight gases, including oxygen. In addition, he contributed to the understanding of photosynthesis and respiration.
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