Antoine Lavoisier: The Chemist Who Developed the Law of Conservation of Mass and Contributed to the Development of Modern Chemistry
On August 26th, 1743 in Paris, France, Antoine Lavoisier was born. During his lifetime (1743-1794), Lavoisier not only developed the law of conservation of mass, but also contributed to the development of modern chemistry. To this day, Lavoisier is remembered as “the father of modern chemistry.”
Lavoisier Early Education
When Lavoisier was five, his family sent him to study under the great scientist Abbé Nicolas Leroy at the Collège des Quatre-Nations in Paris. Lavoisier studied there until he turned sixteen when his parents sent him to study law at the same college. However, Lavoisier was more interested in science and was determined to pursue a career in that field.
Lavoisier’s Later Education
A year later, Lavoisier dropped out of law school and enrolled in the Jardin du Roi, where he studied physical sciences and mathematics. It was here, in 1764, that he presented his first paper on the optical properties of chemicals. After that, Lavoisier was given a full scholarship to the college and he continued his studies until he graduated in 1768 with a degree in chemistry.
Lavoisier’s Early Career
After graduating from the prestigious Jardin du Roi, Lavoisier began to work as a clerk in the French treasury. However, he still found time to pursue his scientific interests. In 1772, he was appointed to the Academy of Sciences, and in 1773, he became a partner in the Ferme Générale, a tax-collecting firm, which would eventually provide him with a steady income.
Lavoisier’s Work on Phlogiston and the Law of Conservation of Mass
In the late 1770s, Lavoisier began to conduct experiments on combustion, respiration, and chemical reactions. He believed that the idea of phlogiston, proposed by Georgess-Emanuel D’Artigas, was incorrect and conducted experiments to disprove it. During this period, he developed the law of conservation of mass, which states that matter can neither be created nor destroyed.
He also formulated the concept of a chemical element, which he described as a substance that cannot be further broken down. His most important contribution, however, was the oxygen theory of combustion, in which he demonstrated that oxygen was the principal component of air involved in combustion.
Lavoisier’s Other Contributions to Chemistry
Although he is most remembered for hislaw of conservation of mass, Lavoisier also made numerous other contributions to chemistry. He was the first to distinguish between elements and compounds, which had previously been thought of as the same. He was also the first to accurately name and describe elements such hydrogren and oxygen.
Additionally, Lavoisier was the first to formulate a modern definition of an acid and to use measuring devices in the laboratory to accurately measure matters. He also established the first chemical nomenclature and wrote the first modern chemistry textbook (Traité Élémentaire de Chimie).
Lavoisier’s Later Life
By the 1780, Lavoisier had established himself as one of the most prominent chemists in Europe. He served on several scientific committees, received numerous honors, and was even elected to the Royal Society in London.
Unfortunately, Lavoisier’s later life was not as prosperous. After the French Revolution, he fell out of favor with the authorities and was arrested and executed in 1794.
Legacy of Antoine Lavoisier
Despite his sudden death, Lavoisier is remembered as “the father of modern chemistry” for his immense contributions to the field. His law of conservation of mass has been accepted and embraced by the scientific community, and his work on phlogiston, oxygen, acids and elements continue to be the foundations of modern chemistry.
Simply put, Antoine Lavoisier revolutionized the scientific world with his discoveries and theories. Despite his untimely death, his legacy will continue to live on as one of the most important figures in the history of chemistry.