At a time when there is a new prize or award announced, it seems, almost every day, it is worth reflecting on Humphry Davy, who was awarded the Napoleon medal to “promote and share scientific knowledge” at a time when England and France were at war. Davy pioneered electrochemistry, but is best known for inventing the Davy safety lamp for miners.
According to the Royal Society for Chemistry, which has just unearthed a 200-year-old letter revealing this information, in 1813, when the Napoleonic wars were still being hotly fought, Davy "undertook a dangerous voyage across the Channel accompanied by his wife Jane and his scientific assistant, Michael Faraday. It is presumed that the trio were arrested after stepping off a ship carrying prisoners-of-war from Plymouth to Morlaix in Brittany. They were only released when word was received approving their trip to Paris, where they met Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise but not the Emperor himself. Davy spent a total of two years travelling in Europe, in the course of which he identified iodine as an element for the first time."
After his death, Davy’s wife threw the medal into the sea, and the Royal Society for Chemistry has offered £1,800 reward for its return — but that’s another story.