Antoine Lavoisier (26 August 1743 – 8 May 1794)
Lavoisier is hailed as the “father of modern chemistry” in honor of his many contributions to the field. He changed chemistry from a qualitative to a quantitative one.
Lavoisier was born into a wealthy family of the nobility in Paris, France, on 26 August 1743. His father was a lawyer at the Parliament of Paris. At the age of five, he inherited a large fortune when his mother passed away.
He did his schooling at the College des Quarter-Nations, University of Paris. In deference to his father’s wishes, he enrolled himself to do law.After receiving the law degree he was admitted to the bar, but never practiced as a lawyer. Even during his law course, he attended lectures on science and continued his scientific education in his spare time.At the age of 26, he was elected to the Academy of Sciences.
At age 28 he married 13-year-old Marie-Anne, but they would have no children. Marie-Anne helped Lavoisier in his scientific work by translating English documents for him and assisting him in the laboratory.
Lavoisier discovered that oxygen played a role in combustion and respiration. He correctly identified sulfur as an element.
Lavoisier carefully weighed the reactants and products of a chemical reaction in a sealed glass vessel so that no gases could escape, and showed that, although matter can change its state in a chemical reaction, the total mass of matter is the same at the end as at the beginning of every chemical change. Thus, Lavoisier’s experiments supported the law of conservation of mass.
Lavoisier synthesized water by burning jets of hydrogen and oxygen in a bell jar over mercury. The quantitative results were good enough to support the contention that water was not an element, as had been thought for over 2,000 years, but a compound of two gases, hydrogen and oxygen.
Lavoisier coauthored the modern system for naming chemical substances. He also introduced the possibility of allotropy in chemical elements when he discovered that diamond is a crystalline form of carbon.
In 1789, his book “Elementary Treatise on Chemistry” was published. It presented a unified view of new theories of chemistry, contained a clear statement of the law of conservation of mass, and denied the existence of phlogiston.
This text clarified the concept of an element as a substance that could not be broken down by any known method of chemical analysis, and presented Lavoisier’s theory of the formation of chemical compounds from elements.
In 1793 he was branded as a traitor, being accused of having plundered the people and the treasury of France, of having adulterated the nation’s tobacco with water, and of having supplied the enemies of France with huge sums of money from the national treasury. He was guillotined at the age of 50 on 8 May 1794. At the end of 1795, in a U-turn, the French government found Lavoisier innocent of all charges.