U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page

Joseph Gay-Lussac

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac was born December 6, 1778 in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, France. He was a French chemist and physicist known for his studies on the physical properties of gases.

After graduating from the École Polytechnique in Paris in 1800, his first major investigation concerned the thermal expansion of gases. He showed that a common thermal-expansion coefficient applied to all gases. This was significant in the establishment of the Kelvin temperature scale later in the century.


Joseph Gay-Lussac (1778-1913)

Joseph Gay-Lussac (1778-1913)

Credits -SCETI, The Walter H. & Lenore Annanberg Rare
Book and manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania


On August 24, 1804, Gay-Lussac and Jean-Baptiste Biot ascended to a height of approximately 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) to study variations in the Earth's electro-magnetic intensity relative to altitude. In a later solo ascent, Gay-Lussac climbed to 23,000 feet (7,010 meters)—a record that held for fifty years. On this flight, he experienced the effects of oxygen deprivation but still managed to collect air samples at over 20,000 feet (6,000 meters), study the variation of pressure and temperature, and repeat his earlier electro-magnetic observations.

In 1805, he collaborated with Alexander von Humboldt in determining the proportions of hydrogen and oxygen present in water.

Gay-Lussac served in the French Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. He died on January 2, 1913 in Paris, France.