Reynolds, James Emerson

James Emerson Reynolds (1844 - 1920)

James Emerson Reynolds was born in Booterstown, Co. Dublin, on 8th January 1844. Destined for the medical profession, he became a licentiateship of the Edinburgh College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1865. He practised for a short time but soon was devoting himself full time to chemistry, acquiring his first professional laboratory on the premises of the Royal Dublin Society when he was appointed Keeper of Minerals. His forte was chemical analysis and in 1868 he was appointed Analyst to the Royal Dublin Society.

His first important contribution to chemistry was made in 1869, when he isolated thiocarbamide (thiourea), the sulphur analogue of urea. This was a notable discovery at the time, since previous investigators, including Liebig and Hofmann, had been unsuccessful in their attempts to obtain the compound. To his early work belongs his discovery of the colloidal derivative of mercury and acetone, which originated from his experiments on wood spirit. It was the first colloidal derivative of mercury to be made known.

In 1870 he became Professor of Chemistry at the Royal College of Surgeons. By the time he became Professor of Chemistry at Trinity College in 1875 Reynolds had a thriving private practice as an analyst and which he had to abandon on his appointment.

Reynolds was a pioneer in introducing quantitative experiments in the early training of his students, and the first volume of his well-known "Experimental Chemistry for Junior Students" (published in four small volumes) was an original work in this respect. He pioneered the idea that research was a crucial activity in universities. In 1885 he commenced investigations on derivatives of silicon, containing the element in union with nitrogen. Several new compounds were described in a series of over a dozen papers published in the Transactions of the Chemical Society up to 1909.

In his last contribution to chemistry, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1913, he described the synthesis of the mineral anorthite CaAl2Si2O8, which was prepared by the combined action of oxygen and steam at a high temperature on the synthetic compound Ca(SiAl)2, a silicon aluminium analogue of calcium cyanide. In 1903 he vacated his chair in Dublin and took up residence in London. He served as President of the Royal Society in 1891-1892.

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1880, served as president of the Chemical Society in 1901-1903, and president of the Chemical Section of the British Association at Nottingham in 1893. He was an honorary M.D. and Sc.D. (1891) of Dublin University.

Further reading: W. J. Davis In Praise of Irish Chemists Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 77B 309-316 (Dublin 1977)

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