1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abel, Sir Frederick Augustus, Bart.

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1
Abel, Sir Frederick Augustus, Bart.
129791911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1 — Abel, Sir Frederick Augustus, Bart.

ABEL, SIR FREDERICK AUGUSTUS, Bart. (1827–1902), English chemist, was born in London on the 17th of July 1827. After studying chemistry for six years under A. W. von Hofmann at the Royal College of Chemistry (established in London in 1845), he became professor of chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in 1851, and three years later was appointed chemist to the War Department and chemical referee to the government. During his tenure of this office, which lasted until 1888, he carried out a large amount of work in connexion with the chemistry of explosives. One of the most important of his investigations had to do with the manufacture of gun-cotton, and he developed a process, consisting essentially of reducing the nitrated cotton to fine pulp, which enabled it to be prepared with practically no danger and at the same time yielded the product in a form that increased its usefulness. This work to an important extent prepared the way for the “smokeless powders” which came into general use towards the end of the 19th century; cordite, the particular form adopted by the British government in 1891, was invented jointly by him and Professor James Dewar. Our knowledge of the explosion of ordinary black powder was also greatly added to by him, and in conjunction with Sir Andrew Noble he carried out one of the most complete inquiries on record into its behaviour when fired. The invention of the apparatus, legalized in 1879, for the determination of the flash-point of petroleum, was another piece of work which fell to him by virtue of his official position. His first instrument, the open-test apparatus, was prescribed by the act of 1868, but, being found to possess certain defects, it was superseded in 1879 by the Abel close-test instrument (see Petroleum). In electricity Abel studied the construction of electrical fuses and other applications of electricity to warlike purposes, and his work on problems of steel manufacture won him in 1897 the Bessemer medal of the Iron and Steel Institute, of which from 1891 to 1893 he was president. He was president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (then the Society of Telegraph Engineers) in 1877. He became a member of the Royal Society in 1860, and received a royal medal in 1887. He took an important part in the work of the Inventions Exhibition (London) in 1885, and in 1887 became organizing secretary and first director of the Imperial Institute, a position he held till his death, which occurred in London on the 6th of September 1902. He was knighted in 1891, and created a baronet in 1893.

Among his books were—Handbook of Chemistry (with C. L. Bloxam), Modern History of Gunpowder (1866), Gun-cotton (1866), On Explosive Agents (1872), Researches in Explosives (1875), and Electricity applied to Explosive Purposes (1884). He also wrote several important articles in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.