William Nicholson, English chemist, c 1812.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Engraving by T Blood after a portrait painted by Samuel Drummond (1765-1844). Nicholson (1753-1815 ) pursued many careers and was at various times a schoolmaster, patent agent, hydraulic engineer, translator and scientific publicist. He was also a keen inventor and, after Volta's (1745-1827) creation of the electric battery in 1800, was the first to construct a Voltaic pile in England. Immersing leads from the pile in water, he found that hydrogen and oxygen bubbles were produced, and from this discovered the electrolysis of water. In 1797 Nicholson founded the 'Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts', commonly known as 'Nicholson's Journal', which he continued to edit until his death.