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Denis Papin

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22 Aug 1647

Blois, France


London, England

Denis Papin attended a Jesuit school in Blois then, in 1661, he began his studies at the University of Angers. He graduated with a medical degree in 1669.

Papin assisted Huygens with air pump experiments from 1671 to 1674, during which time he lived in Huygens 's apartments in the Royal Library in Paris. Papin went to London in 1675 to work with Boyle . He remained in this post until 1679 when he became Hooke 's assistant at the Royal Society . Papin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1680.

In 1681 Papin left for Italy where he was director of experiments at the Accademia publicca di scienze in Venice until 1684. There was an attempt to turn the Accademia in Venice into a Society modelled on the Royal Society in London and the Académie Royale in Paris but lack of financial support ended the attempt.

There were religious reasons why Papin could not return to France. He was a Calvinist, born into a Huguenot family, and after the Edict of Nantes which had granted religious liberty to the Huguenots was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685, he became an exile.

Papin returned to London in 1684 working again with the Royal Society until 1687. After this Papin left England and went to Hesse-Kassel where he was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Marburg. He held this post until 1696 when he worked for the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel until 1707. This time in Hesse-Kassel was not a successful one for Papin who found himself in disagreement with his colleagues.

Papin is best known for his work as an inventor, particularly his work on the steam engine. In 1679 he invented the pressure cooker and, in 1690 he published his first work on the steam engine in De novis quibusdam machinis. The purpose of the steam engine was to raise water to a canal between Kassel and Karlshaven. He also used a steam engine to pump water to a tank on the roof of the palace to supply water for the fountains in the grounds. In 1705, when Leibniz sent Papin a sketch of a steam engine, Papin began working on that topic again and wrote The New Art of Pumping Water by using Steam (1707). He designed a safety valve to prevent the pressure of steam building up to dangerous levels.

Other inventions which Papin worked on were the construction of a submarine, an air gun and a grenade launcher. He tried to build up a glass industry in Hesse-Kassel and also experimented with preserving food both with chemicals and using a vacuum.

In 1707 Papin built the first paddle boat and that same year he returned to London where he lived in obscurity and poverty until his death. The date given for his death is only a guess since no records seem to exist of his last years in London. His last known letter is dated 23 January 1712.

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland