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Robert Boyle (25 January 1627 – 31 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor, also noted for his writings in theology. He is best known for Boyle's law.
Boyle was born in Lismore Castle, in County Waterford, Ireland, the seventh son and fourteenth child of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork. Richard Boyle had arrived in Ireland in 1588 as an entrepreneur, and had amassed enormous landholdings by the time Robert was born.
While still a child, Robert learned to speak Latin, Greek and French. He was not yet eight years old when, following the death of his mother, he was sent to Eton College in England, at which his father's friend, Sir Henry Wotton, was then the provost.
After spending over three years at Eton, Robert travelled abroad with a French tutor. They visited Italy in 1641, and remained in Florence during the winter of that year, studying the "paradoxes of the great star-gazer" Galileo Galilei — Galileo was elderly, but still alive in Florence in 1641.
Boyle returned to England from the Continent in mid-1644 with a keen interest for scientific research. His father had died the previous year and had left him the manor of Stalbridge in Dorset, together with some estates in Ireland. From that time, he devoted his life to scientific research, and soon took a prominent place in the band of inquirers, known as the "Invisible College", who devoted themselves to the cultivation of the "new philosophy". They met frequently in London, often at Gresham College; some of the members also had meetings at Oxford where Boyle went to reside in 1654.
Reading in 1657 of Otto von Guericke's air-pump, he set himself with the assistance of Robert Hooke to devise improvements in its construction, and with the result, the "machina Boyleana" or "Pneumatical Engine", finished in 1659, he began a series of experiments on the properties of air.
An account of Boyle's work with the air pump was published in 1660 under the title New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air, and its Effects.... Among the critics of the views put forward in this book was a Jesuit, Franciscus Linus (1595–1675), and it was while answering his objections that Boyle made his first mention of the law that the volume of a gas varies inversely to the pressure of the gas, which among English-speaking people is usually called after his name.
However, the person that originally formulated the hypothesis was Henry Power in 1661. Boyle included a reference to a paper written by Power, but mistakenly attributed it to Richard Townley. In continental Europe the hypothesis is sometimes attributed to Edme Mariotte, although he did not publish it until 1676 and was likely aware of Boyle's work at the time.
In 1663 the Invisible College became the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, and the charter of incorporation granted by Charles II of England, named Boyle a member of the council.
In 1680 he was elected president of the society, but declined the honour from a scruple about oaths.
It was during his time at Oxford that Boyle was a Chevalier. The Chevaliers are thought to have been established by royal order a few years before Boyle's time at Oxford. The period of Boyle's residence was marked by the reactionary actions of the victorious parliamentarian forces, consequently this period marked the most secretive period of Chevalier movements and thus little is known about Boyle's involvement beyond his membership.
In 1668 he left Oxford for London where he resided at the house of his sister, Lady Ranelagh, in Pall Mall.
In 1689 his health, never very strong, began to fail seriously and he gradually withdrew from his public engagements, ceasing his communications to the Royal Society, and advertising his desire to be excused from receiving guests, "unless upon occasions very extraordinary", on Tuesday and Friday forenoon, and Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. In the leisure thus gained he wished to "recruit his spirits, range his papers", and prepare some important chemical investigations which he proposed to leave "as a kind of Hermetic legacy to the studious disciples of that art", but of which he did not make known the nature.
His health became still worse in 1691, and he died on 30 December that year, just a week after that of the sister with whom he had lived for more than twenty years. Robert Boyle died from paralysis. He was buried in the churchyard of St Martin in the Fields, his funeral sermon being preached by his friend Bishop Gilbert Burnet. In his will, Boyle endowed a series of Lectures which came to be known as the Boyle Lectures.