The Joseph Black Award was established in 2008, replacing the Society of Analytical Chemistry (SAC) Silver Medal and commemorates the chemist and teacher Joseph Black.
Born in Bordeaux in 1728, Black moved to his father's hometown, Belfast, at the age of 12 to continue his education at the old Latin School. In 1744 he started his studies at the University of Glasgow and after three years chose to pursue chemistry and medicine. He completed his medical studies in 1754 in Edinburgh, producing his well-renowned thesis regarding the use of magnesia as an antacid and the relationship between mild and caustic acids.
In 1755 Black collated the experiments described in his thesis, along with additional work, in a paper that would become his most noteworthy chemical publication. One of Black's significant findings showed that for chalk to become lime it was necessary to remove carbon dioxide, an important step towards chemistry based on quantitation.
In 1756 Black succeeded his lecturer William Cullen to take up lectureship at the University of Glasgow. During this time his research turned to latent heats and specific heats, work that greatly influenced and supported James Watt's improvement of the steam engine. In 1766 Black again succeeded Cullen, this time as Chair of Chemistry at Edinburgh. Whilst at Edinburgh he completed high quality analytical work including the correction of carbon dioxide interference in alkali titrations by using a blank, and performing the first back titration and titration by weight.
From 1766 Black's interests focused more heavily on developments in the Scottish chemical based industries and education. Black achieved widespread fame for his teaching and lecture style, including memorable demonstrations recorded in students' notes. In 1783 he became a Founder Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.