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Significant Scots
Kenneth Kemp


KEMP, KENNETH G.--Of this talented scientific experimenter and lecturer, our notice must necessarily be brief, in consequence of his premature departure while his high fame was yet in progress. He was born in 1807; and as soon as he was able to make choice of a particular path in intellectual life, he selected that of chemistry, into which he threw himself with all the ardour of a devotee, or even of a martyr—this last expression being fully needed to express the daring investigations into which he directed his studies, and the equally dangerous experiments by which he arrived at new and important results in chemical science. Not the least of these were his experiments on the theory of combustion, and the liquefaction of the gases, with which he delighted the British Association at their meetings in Edinburgh in 1836. It was not surprising, also, that in such pursuits his inquisitive energetic mind should have made not only discoveries on several chemical compounds, but have recommended the science itself, as yet too generally neglected in Scotland, to the attention of his countrymen—more especially when he had obtained the situation of lecturer on practical chemistry in the university of Edinburgh. Besides his researches into the compounds of substances, and the evolvement of gases, Mr. Kemp studied deeply the mysteries of electricity and magnetism, and was so fortunate as to be the discoverer of the use of zinc plates in galvanic batteries, by which that invisible power of galvanism can be controlled at pleasure, and directed to useful purposes. "Let us never forget to whom we owe this discovery, which, of itself, enables galvanic batteries to be used in the arts. Ages to come will, perhaps, have to thank the inventor, whom we are too apt to forget—yet still the obligation from the public to Mr. Kemp is the same." This testimony, from an eminent writer, who could well appreciate the subject, will, we trust, have its weight in identifying the discovery with its originator. Another which Mr. Kemp was the first to make—at least the first in Scotland—was the solidifying of carbonic acid gas.

Thus, even at an early period of life, Mr. Kemp had attained to high scientific distinction, and made the abstruse researches of chemistry a subject of popular interest in Scotland, while his example had stimulated those kindred intellects by whom further progress in the science was certain to be secured. Although this was much, still more was anticipated, when his career was cut short by a disease of the heart, under which he had laboured for years, and which, perhaps, the peculiar nature of his studies among strange substances and deleterious atmospheres had tended silently to aggravate. He died in Edinburgh, on the 30th of December, 1843, at the early age of thirty-six.


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