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John Canton

John Canton

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John Canton FRS  was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...


Canton was born in Middle Street Stroud
Stroud, Gloucestershire
Stroud is a market town and civil parish in the county of Gloucestershire, England. It is the main town in Stroud District.Situated below the western escarpment of the Cotswold Hills at the meeting point of the Five Valleys, the town is noted for its steep streets and cafe culture...

, Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean....

, the son of a weaver John Canton (b. 1687) and Esther (née Davis.) He had only a common education, after which he was put apprentice to a broadcloth weaver, but his leisure hours were devoted to mathematical studies, and. he made a dial upon stone, which being placed against the front of his father's house, so pleased the gentlemen of the neighbourhood, that he found access to their libraries, by which means he was enabled to improve himself considerably. In 1737, at the age of nineteen, under the auspices of Dr Henry Miles
Henry Miles
Henry Miles, FRS was an English Dissenting minister and scientific writer, a Fellow of the Royal Society known for experiments on electricity.-Life:...

, he was articled for five years as clerk to Samuel Watkins, the master of a school in Spital Square, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, with whom at the end of that time he entered into partnership.

About the year 1745 he made some improvements in electricity, and in 1750 he read a paper before the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 on a method of making artificial magnet
A magnet is a material or object that produces a magnetic field. This magnetic field is invisible but is responsible for the most notable property of a magnet: a force that pulls on other ferromagnetic materials, such as iron, and attracts or repels other magnets.A permanent magnet is an object...

s, which procured him election as a fellow of the society and the award of the Copley Medal
Copley Medal
The Copley Medal is an award given by the Royal Society of London for "outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science, and alternates between the physical sciences and the biological sciences"...

. He was the first in England to verify Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

's hypothesis of the identity of lightning
Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms...

 and electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

, and he made several important electrical discoveries.

In 1762 and 1764 he published experiments in refutation of the decision of the Florentine Academy, at that time generally accepted, that water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 is incompressible. In 1768 he described the preparation, by calcining oyster-shell with sulphur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

, of the phosphorescent material known as Canton's phosphorus. His investigations were carried on without any intermission of his work as a schoolmaster. He died in London aged 53 of dropsy.

He was the recipient of letters from Thomas Bayes
Thomas Bayes
Thomas Bayes was an English mathematician and Presbyterian minister, known for having formulated a specific case of the theorem that bears his name: Bayes' theorem...

, which were then published by the Royal Society.