Antoine Lavoisier

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Antoine Lavoisier

Lavoisier's ContributionLavoisier did not believe in phlogiston. For one thing, it would have to have a negative mass to accomodate for all the changes. This was clearly not the case. Lavoisier thus performed an experiment to disprove the existence of phlogiston. Though he drew on the work of a man named Joseph Priestly, he tried to take credit for Priestly's work. He did, however, make his own contribution. When a tin box is heated, it forms the substance they called calx, and the tin gains mass. However, Lavoisier proved that all of the mass gained was removed from the air, disproving phlogiston and giving chemistry students everywhere their beloved Law of the Conservation of Mass. He published his findings in his Elementary Treatise of Chemistry. His main contribution was not any groundbreaking experiment but rather extending and coalesing the work of others.

Antoine Lavoisier was born in Paris, 1743, to a wealthy family. He followed his father's footsteps and got a law degree, but he was never a practicing lawyer and began studying math and science, including botany, astronomy, and geology, at age 21. At 25, he was elected to the elite French Academy of Sciences for his work on geology and a study on the best way to light a dark city. He also became part of a notoriously corrupt tax-collecting firm, but it is thought he was mostly honest. At 28, he married Marie-Anne Pierette Paulz, the 13-year-old daughter of his company's co-owner. She translated from Englsih for Lavoisier and illustrated his books. After performing enough groundbreaking work to be called "The Father of Modern Chemistry," he was beheaded during the French Revolution in 1794.


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Wisdom of the TimeAt the time, it was thought that there was a nearly weightless substance called pholgiston in everything. Metals contained a lot of phlogiston, and air very little. When metals were heated, the resulting "calx" was thought to be the leftover metal after the phlogiston enters the air. This was considered the reason for combustion.

ReceptionLavoisier's findings were generally well accepted-or at least not controversial. He was a well-liked public figure (at least until the revolution), and often performed his experiments for guests. Also, the ideas he proved were not generally radical or completely new, allowing an atmosphere of acceptance that led to his fame as a chemist.

ImpactIt is not for nothing that Antoine Lavoisier is called "The Father of Modern Chemistry." He collected and extended upon the ideas that form the fundamentals of chemistry, changing it from a science of observations and guesses to one of precise measurement and methodical experimentation. Without Antoine Lavoisier, chemistry as we know it could not exist.


Antoine Lavoisier at Work

Lavoisier and Wife

Now go...

Lavoiser did a lot more than disprov the existence of phlogiston, though. Watch the video to find out what you have to thank Lavoisier for!

Lavoisier was born here, in France



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