Inorganic chemists and long time readers of Andrea Sella’s Classic kit column (older editions here) will no doubt be familiar with a piece of lab equipment known as Perkin’s triangle. As Andrea revealed in his original article, it was not in fact Perkin who invented the apparatus, but a colleague named Leonard Temple Thorne. How the device came to bear Perkin’s name rather than Thorne’s is not entirely clear – presumably Perkin took versions of it with him and spread the idea around as he moved between laboratories after gaining his doctorate, and either claimed credit or at least didn’t protest too hard when colleagues referred to the apparatus as the ‘Perkin’ triangle. That said, Andrea’s searchings for references to Perkin actually using the device failed to show up much.

One thing we can now be absolutely sure of is that he did definitely use the kit – as attested in this account, discovered by Andrea in his rummaging through the classic literature:


Account of perkin using his triangle

I particularly like the references to a ‘stiff’ bunsen flame (I wonder when this terminology fell from favour), and the idea of having a stock of seed crystals and nuclei in your beard to induce recalcitrant materials to form beautiful needles or prisms – perhaps the decrease in chemist–beard quotient is why we still see crystallisation as a bit of a black art…

Phillip Broadwith

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