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Jean-Baptiste Romé de l'Isle
(1736-1790)

Jean-Baptiste Romé de l'Isle was a French mineralogist who is best known as one of the founders of optical crystallography. He was born on August 26, 1736, in Gray, France and little is known about his early life. However, he was a member of the military and acted as an officer in the East Indies. Romé de l'Isle was captured by the English in 1761 and remained their prisoner for three years.

When Romé de l'Isle returned to France in 1764, he developed an interest in chemistry, followed by a passion for mineralogy. He catalogued several private collections and carried out a significant amount of research. Subsequent to years of careful measurements and crystal observations, he published Essal de Cristallographic in 1772. A second edition of the work, which is regarded as his major contribution, was published in three volumes as Cristallographie in 1783.

Within his works, Romé de l'Isle established that various shapes of crystals of the same natural or artificial substance are all closely related to each other. Measurements he took with a goniometer enabled him to determine that the angles between corresponding faces of a crystal are always the same, which is often described as the first law of crystallography. In addition, he demonstrated that these angles are a characteristic of mineral type, introduced the concept of truncation, and also enlarged the crystallographic vocabulary.

Romé de l'Isle died in Paris on March 7, 1790. However, through his remarkable efforts and those of other renowned eighteenth century researchers, crystallography was elevated from a minor field of interest into a prominent science.

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