Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (lah vwah ZYAY) was one of the best-known French scientists and was an important government official. His theories of combustion, his development of a way to classify the elements and the first modern textbook of chemistry led to his being known as the father of modern chemistry. He contributed to much of the research in the field of chemistry. He is quoted for saying, “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.”
Lavoisier was born in Paris, France on Aug. 26, 1743. When he was eleven years old he attended a college called Mazain. For Lavoisier’s last two years in college he found a great deal of interest in science. He received an excellent education and developed an interest in all branches of science, especially chemistry. Abbe Nicolas Louis de Lacaill taught Lavoisier about meteorological observation.
On 1763 Lavoisier received his bachelor’s degree and on 1764 a licentiate which allowed him to practice his profession. In his spare time he studied books all about science. His 1st paper was written about gypsum, also known by hydrated calcium sulfate. He described its chemical and physical properties. He was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1768.
On 1771 he married Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze. She helped Lavoisier by drawing diagrams for his scientific works and translating English notation for him.
Unlike earlier chemists, Lavoisier paid particular attention to the weight of the ingredients involved in chemical reactions and of the products that resulted. He carefully measured the weights of the reactants and products. He noted that the weight of the air in which combustion occurred decreases. He found that when the burning material combined with the air somehow and that the air weighed less. Lavoisier found that the weight of the products of combustion equals the weight of the reacting ingredients. This observation became known as the law of conservation of mass (or matter). He repeated many of the experiments of earlier chemists but interpreted the results far differently.
On 1772 he was studying on combustion, which he is most known for in science. Lavoisier presented an important memoir on conversion of water into earth evaporation. This brought him to the Oxygen Theory of Combustion. On 1774 Lavoisier carried out experiments on calcinations of tin and lead and confirmed the increase of weight of metals on calcinations from combustion of air. By demonstrating the nature of combustion, he disproved the phlogiston theory.
The phlogiston theory stated that all flammable materials contained a substance called phlogiston. According to this theory, materials gave off phlogiston as they burned. Air was necessary for combustion because it absorbed the phlogiston that was released. This was thought at the time to be a fact. Lavoisier showed this theory to be false and made oxygen the reason that things burned, not phlogiston. Lavoisier burned textbooks that supported the theory. He was trying to make a point that the phlogiston theory was invalid and oxygen is the new answer to combustion.
He laid the framework for understanding chemical reactions as combinations of elements to form new materials, or products. He concluded that combustion results from the rapid chemical union of a flammable material with a newly discovered gas, which he named “oxygen”, previously known as “dephilogisticated air.” The word “oxygen” means acid producer. Lavoisier and others had found that oxygen is a part of several acids. Lavoisier incorrectly reasoned that oxygen is needed to make all acids. He developed endings of the degree of oxygen by adding certain ending such as -ic or -ous.
With French astronomer and mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace, Lavoisier conducted experiments on the respiration in animals. Their studies showed a similarity between ordinary chemical reactions and the processes that happen in living organisms. These experiments were the basis for the science now known as biochemistry. Lavoisier also helped to develop a system for naming chemical substances based on their composition. This system is still in use.
He made the very first modern chemistry text named Traité elémentaire de chimie (Elements of Chemistry). Many consider it the first textbook on modern chemistry. Here for the first time the elements are laid out systematically. His list included many compounds, which were thought to be elements at the time. Lavoisier worked out reactions in chemical equations that respect the conservation of mass.
As a government official, Lavoisier was successful in creating agricultural reform, serving as a tax collection official, and overseeing the government’s manufacture of gunpowder. On 1775 he was made commissioner of gunpowder. He was asked to improve the quality of French gunpowder. This boosted his career.
Politically, Lavoisier was a moderate constitutionalist, and Marat and other radicals hated him because of this. He became involved in the Ferme Generale, a private tax-collection firm, which became a target during the Terror. When the Reign of Terror erupted in France, Lavoisier fell victim to its tyranny and France lost one of her greatest scientist. The leaders of the French Revolution arrested Lavoisier in 1793. In spite of his achievements, Lavoisier was found guilty of conspiracy with the enemies of France because of his involvement in tax collection. Nov. 24, 1793 Lavoisier and his 27 other colleagues were guillotined.
1999 World Book Encyclopedia