Antoine Lavoisier was a great scientist in the age of the French Revolution. His work was very varied and he discovered a lot of fundamental information regarding the fields of chemistry and biology. His work was of such importance Lavoisier is also known as the ‘father of modern chemistry’.
As a young man he studied in chemistry, botany, astronomy and mathematics at the College des Quatre-Nations. Always encouraged to study law by his family, he even obtained his license to practice law, to eventually tread in his father’s footsteps. However, more fascinated by the field of science he also went on to study geology. He even became a member of the French Academy of Science at the age of 25, due to a research on street lighting.
But what was his notable role in science?
The most notable role Antoine Lavoisier played was in the field of chemistry, discovering a few fundamental things about combustion, elements and acids.
Before the Golden Age of scientific discoveries there were many theories that were not well supported or even incorrect. Over this period, Lavoisier was one of the geniuses that played a big part in revolutionizing science.
His work in science for example, was proving the role of oxygen in respiration in plants and animals. He compared the animal its need for oxygen to the need of oxygen for a flame. Besides experimenting with respiration, he discovered that the ‘inflammable air’ experiment that Henry Cavendish had devised was not just ‘inflammable air’ but even an element of its own. He noticed that burning this ‘air’ produced water, forming a thin layer over his instruments, and he named this element Hydrogen. From hydro-genes / water-creation.
His findings on combustion proved the flaws in the phlogiston theory proposed by Johann Joachim Becher in 1667. This theory stated that phlogiston was an element present in substances that are able to burn. Phlogisticated substances were dephlogisticated when burned.
Concerning acids he demonstrated that air (Oxygen) was also responsible for acidity. He thought that substances turned more acidic due to the element oxygen. He also gave name to oxygen, because he thought that acids tasted ‘sharp’. Thus, oxygen from oxy-genes / sharp-creation.
Besides even all these findings he also helped construct the metric system, he predicted the element silicon, helped reform chemical nomenclature and proved that sulfur is an element and not a compound.
How did Lavoisier meet his end?
Being a nobleman in the French Revolution was a ‘difficult’ time. He was one of the administrators of the Ferme Générale which was related to the taxes in France. He was branded as a traitor by the French Revolutionaries and sent to court. According to a vague source, (experts say this sentence was probably never said, but no one is sure), the following happened; as Lavoisier started pleading for ‘innocence’ so he could continue his important experiments, the judge interrupted him with; “La République n’a pas besoin de savants ni de chimistes ; le cours de la justice ne peut être suspendu.” (“The Republic needs neither scientists nor chemists; the course of justice cannot be delayed.”)” So Lavoisier was sentenced to a fatal height-reduction by guillotine. After hearing of Lavoisiers death, the Italian-French scientist Joseph-Louis Lagrange said; “”Cela leur a pris seulement un instant pour lui couper la tête, mais la France pourrait ne pas en produire une autre pareille en un siècle.” (“It took them only an instant to cut off his head, but France may not produce another such head in a century.”).
“Antoine Lavoisier”. FamousScientists.org. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
Antoine Lavoisier on Wikipedia