Sir William Robert Grove was a Welsh judge and physical scientist. He anticipated the general theory of the conservation of energy, and was a pioneer of fuel cell technology.
Born in Swansea in south Wales, Grove was the only child of John, a magistrate and deputy lieutenant of Glamorgan, and his wife, Anne née Bevan.
His early education was in the hands of private tutors, before he attended Brasenose College, Oxford to study classics, though his scientific interests may have been cultivated by mathematician Baden Powell. Otherwise, his taste for science has no clear origin though his circle in Swansea was broadly educated. He graduated in 1832.
In 1835 he was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn. In the same year, Grove joined the Royal Institution and was a founder of the Swansea Literary and Philosophical Society, an organisation with which he maintained close links.
In 1829 at the Royal Institution Grove met Emma Maria Powles, and he married her in 1837. The couple embarked on a tour of the continent for their honeymoon. This sabbatical offered Groves an opportunity to pursue his scientific interests and resulted in his first scientific paper suggesting some novel constructions for electric cells.
In 1839, Grove developed a novel form of electric cell, the Grove cell, which used zinc and platinum electrodes exposed to two acids and separated by a porous ceramic pot. Grove announced the latter development to the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1839.In 1840 Grove invented the first incandescent electric light, which was later perfected by Thomas Edison.Later that year he gave another account of his development at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Birmingham, where it aroused the interest of Michael Faraday. On Faraday's invitation Grove presented his discoveries at the prestigious Royal Institution Friday Discourse on 13 March 1840.
Grove's presentation made his reputation, and he was soon proposed for Fellowship of the Royal Society by such distinguished men as William Thomas Brande, William Snow Harris and Charles Wheatstone. Grove also attracted the attention of John Peter Gassiot, a relationship that resulted in Grove's becoming the first professor of experimental philosophy at the London Institution in 1841. Grove's inaugural lecture in 1842 was the first announcement of what Grove called the correlation of physical forces, in modern terms, the conservation of energy.
In 1842, Grove developed the first fuel cell (which he called the gas voltaic battery), which produced electrical energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen, and described it using his correlation theory.In developing the cell and showing that steam could be disassociated into oxygen and hydrogen, and the process reversed, he was the first person to demonstrate the thermal dissociation of molecules into their constituent atoms.The first demonstration of this effect, he gave privately to Faraday, Gassiot and Edward William Brayley, his scientific editor.His work also led him to early insights into the nature of ionisation.For observations made in Ref.,Grove is credited for the discovery of sputtering.
In the 1840s Grove also collaborated with Gassiot at the London Institution on photography and the Daguerreotype and calotype processes. Inspired by his legal practice, he presciently observed.
Grove became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1840, and received their Royal Medal in 1847.He was Vice-President of the Royal Institution in 1844.Receiving a knighthood in 1872,he was given an honorary degree by Cambridge University in 1879 and became Privy Councillor in 1887.
The lunar crater "Grove" is named in his honor.The Grove Fuel Cell Symposium and Exhibition is organised by Elsevier.