Lavoisier paved way for modern chemistry


Every area of science has had those special individuals whose contributions were critical to the future development of the discipline.

For the science of chemistry, the famous Frenchman Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794) was one of those individuals. He revolutionized the study of chemistry when the archaic ideas of alchemists were still very prevalent and accepted by many.

Antoine was born into a Catholic family in Paris where he was raised in middle-class comfort. He was trained to be a lawyer like his father and grandfather. However, science became his true love, and he was able to come by the means and opportunity to pursue this ambition.

In 1768, he bought a practicing share in a deeply despised institution called the Ferme Generale, which collected taxes on behalf of the government. This provided him a good living and ample time to pursue the scientific knowledge he craved.

Three years after embarking on this lucrative career path, he married the 14-year-old daughter of one of his bosses. Madame Lavoisier was not only young and beautiful, but she was very intelligent, and like her husband was intrigued by chemistry. She worked closely with him on his experiments, keeping notes and learning English so that she could help keep track of British advances in chemical research.

Lavoisier opened a new era in chemistry with his emphasis of precision measurements and theories backed by experimentation. He paved the way for modern chemistry and is often regarded as its founder. His book on chemistry, written in 1789, became a classic and introduced the concept of the element in its modern form as well as paving the way for the discovery of many new elements. He was the first person to explain combustion correctly and to give oxygen its modern name.

In addition to other important discoveries, he exposed a number of the accepted concepts of his time as being false. Over time, this created some very powerful enemies.

In October 1793, Marie Antoinette was sent to the guillotine as a victim of the French Revolution. The following month, Lavoisier was arrested and denounced his work as a government tax collector. One of his science enemies made it difficult for him at his trial where he was convicted. In 1794, he was beheaded at the age of 51, and in an instant the world lost a great mind and all of its potential.


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