Antoine Lavoisier made great contributions to the field of Chemistry, like Alfred Nobel, Dmitri Mendeleev and John Dalton. These contributions have lasting impacts on the field to this day, even though he was around during the 18th century. In fact, his discoveries are among the most important in chemistry. His discoveries pertained to the basic principles of chemistry, biology, and fire science. During his life, he was involved in organizations that helped to promote his discoveries. This helped his discoveries to truly take hold. Unfortunately, he met an untimely death due to political upheaval.
When Antoine Lavoisier was around, chemistry was just starting to really develop as a field. Scientists did not know very much about how chemicals interact one another and how chemicals influenced biology. There was still a tremendous amount to be learned, and there were many things that hadn’t even been considered yet. For instance, in his time, atoms were not even discovered yet. Antoine Lavoisier spent much of his life working to make chemistry a more known and prominent science, and make discoveries that would advance the field. He was very successful in his efforts, and he made a very large impact on the field.
One of his most important discoveries was his theory that oxygen is required for combustion. In the past, it was not particularly thought that oxygen is the component of air that fuels the combustion process. This theory turned out to be quite accurate indeed, and the principle plays a major role in the understanding of how combustion works. Prior to him, it was not known what component of air was responsible for fueling fires. Nowadays, this principle is important in the fields of fire science and all processes that work with pure oxygen. He also found that oxygen is required for the human body, and that this is the most essential component of air for human beings. This discovery now has applications in medicine, as those with breathing impairments can be helped by being given pure oxygen.
Lavoisier made major contributions to understanding the chemical elements. In fact, he discovered that water is actually made of two materials, hydrogen and oxygen. Prior to this discovery, it was assumed that water is an element in and of itself. He used the process of electrolysis in order to separate the two gases. He also made the discovery that sulfur is one of the elemental building blocks of matter. Furthermore, he made discoveries related to the element carbon. He found that carbon can exist in different forms. Did you know that charcoal is the same element as diamond? Antoine Lavoisier was responsible for the discovery that these materials are actually the same element in different forms. He discovered this by heating a diamond and also heating charcoal. Both of these materials vaporized into a type of gas, yet the material retained the same weight as before. Since both materials exhibited the same reaction when heated, he determined that they are actually the same element. The gas that was produced is carbon dioxide. Additionally, he made a list of different chemical elements. These included 19 elements that are still considered to be chemical elements. These are nitrogen, oxygen, cobalt, hydrogen, sulfur, copper, gold, tungsten, nickel, platinum, zinc, tin, silver, molybdenum, manganese, iron, antimony, sulfur, and phosphorus.
Another major discovery of his was that he discovered that gases are no lighter than liquids or solids. When he converted solids and liquids into gases, he was amazed to see no difference in their weight! Therefore, it was concluded that the matter changes form and becomes less dense, but no material is lost. When something is made into a vapor, it may even become invisible. However, it’s visibility to the unaided eye has nothing to do with a change in weight or the amount of material. The principle that a change in state of matter does not change mass is still supported by scientists today. This principle is referred to as the law of conservation of mass.
In addition to making these discoveries, he made sure that they were broadcasted throughout the scientific world. He did this by being involved in a variety of different scientific organizations. He used his discoveries related to combustion to better an organization that worked with the development and production of gunpowder. In addition, he presented his work to the Academy of Sciences. This was when his theory of oxygen playing a fundamental role in breathing was first presented.
He also had some very interesting philosophies towards scientific pursuits. These philosophies are still held by today’s scientists. For one, he was very objective minded. This belief is certainly held by nearly all individuals in the sciences. Here are some of Antoine Lavoisier quotes:
“We must trust to nothing but facts: these are presented to us by nature and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.”
~ Antoine Lavoisier
In addition, he felt that nature itself could be studied and a great deal could be learned from it. This too, is something that most of today’s scientists would agree with! On this, he said:
“I consider nature a vast chemical laboratory in which all kinds of composition and decomposition are formed.”
~ Antoine Lavoisier
Furthermore, these philosophies are unlikely to be abandoned by scientists. In fact, these ideas are key to the very principles of how science is conducted.
The cause of Antoine Lavoisier’s death was execution, during the French Revolution. Some scientific communities that he was involved in were attacked during the war. The organizations were targeted, and his involvement in the organizations was seen as criminal. The French Government said that he was a traitor. For this charge, he was given the guillotine on May 8th of 1794.
Antoine Lavoisier’s life caused sweeping changes to the sciences of chemistry and biology. As time went on, more was understood about the principles that he discovered. He helped to make the field of chemistry a prominent science through these discoveries. The discoveries that he made created paths of further discovery that are still being followed today. Therefore, there are likely to be more discoveries in the future that will occur from elaborating on the things he found. He is truly one of history’s greatest and most successful scientists.