“I am young and avid for glory.” – Antoine Lavoisier as a student.


Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier

Antoine Lavoisier is considered to be one of the fathers of Modern Chemistry along with John Dalton – atomic theory, Jons Jacob Berzelius – stoichiometry and the law of definite proportions, and Robert Boyle – Boyle’s law. Now, what kind of confusing law did Lavoisier come up with, you ask? He discovered the Law of Conservation of Mass and proved that it worked through a closed system of combustion. By proving the this law, he allowed us to have the chemistry that we have today. So the next time you’re frantically balancing chemical equations for homework at 12 am, you know who to thank!

Conservation of Mass in action

Antoine-Laurente de Lavoisier was born on August 26th, 1743. He was born to a rich household, and he showed an interest to studying. At the young age of 11, our young budding scientist entered the College de Quatre-Nations. Lavoisier’s interests in science were sparked in his last 2 years at this school; he studied chemistry, botany, and many other sciences. However, Lavoisier graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law instead of a science one, but his interest for science never died down. Antoine was heavily influenced by the French Enlightenment, and never became a lawyer; instead, he continued studying in the sciences. Lavoisier’s first chemistry work was first published in 1764, and he read his first paper to the French Academy of Sciences on the properties of gypsum (he studied geology for 3 years after his chemistry publication). His passion for chemistry and science eventually landed him a spot in Academy of Sciences in 1768.

The Academy of Sciences is now one of the 5 parts of the Institut de France, which is hosted in this building.

Lavoisier became an administrator of the Ferme Générale, which is a private tax collecting company that was based on many payments, from land taxes to tithes to the church to salt taxes. He met his wife, Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier at this place. Mrs. Lavoisier later helped her husband by translating documents from English to French and she acted as a lab assistant. The Ferme Generale, however, was highly disliked by the people of France, and Lavoisier eventually was guillotined – I’ll talk about this a little later.

Extremely realistic picture of combustion

One of Lavoisier’s most important contribution to the chemistry society was in combustion. In Lavoisier’s time, chemistry could be barely considered a science since most of it was still based on ancient Greek philosophy. The dominant theory at Lavoisier’s time was called the Phlogiston Theory, in which phlogistons were released when something was burned, causing the substance being burned to lose weight. Lavoisier, however, disproved this theory. He showed that metals like magnesium gained mass when they burned, and proved that a gas that had mass, or oxygen, was required in combustion. He also found out that this process could be measured via weighing in a closed system. Thus, the Law of Conservation of Mass was produced.

Example of Conservation of Mass

Lavoisier also greatly improved French gunpowder and was appointed as a commissioner of the Gunpowder Commission. Finally, Lavoisier, along with 3 other scientists, created a new system of chemical nomenclature (chemical naming), and employed it in his work Elementary Treatise on Chemistry (1789), which is a compilation of all his contributions to the chemistry society. This is considered to be the first modern chemistry textbook.

Guillotine

Antoine Lavoisier was branded a traitor by Robespierre, who was one of the leaders of the French Revolution, and was tried, convicted, and guillotined on May 8th, 1794.

“Il ne leur a fallu qu’un moment pour faire tomber cette tête, et cent années peut-être ne suffiront pas pour en reproduire une semblable.” – Joseph Louis Lagrange


“It took them only an instant to cut off this head, and one hundred years might not suffice to reproduce its like.” – Joseph Louis Lagrange (translated)

I knew of Lavoisier’s existence ever since I was small; I had a chemistry comic book in which Lavoisier featured in. I distinctly remember him being called the ‘Father of Modern Chemistry’. To be honest, when the Eminent Project rolled around, I freaked. I considered a diverse range of people, from composers to athletes to programmers. Suddenly, I had an epiphany; I remembered reading the chemistry comic book as a child and firmly decided that I was going to choose Antoine Lavoisier as my Eminent person.

Lavoisier looking up

Lavoisier and I don’t exactly have that much in common. We live (or lived) in different time periods, we are from different races, and he lived in France, while I live in Canada. Lavoisier was born in a really rich family, whereas I would be considered middle class. I don’t think there’s a single appearance-related trait that Lavoisier and I share – except maybe height? (Joke) However, we both share the same passion for science; especially chemistry. One question I want to answer through exploring Lavoisier is if Science, in particular Chemistry, is what I’m really passionate about – if it’s really what I want to push through with as a possible major if I go to college. A few skills I want to improve through this project would include writing more smoothly since I tend to write in shorter chunks, speaking more steadily and clearly, and being able to stay on task on a big project like this one. I hope that when I’ve finished with this project, I can look at this post, and think: “Wow. Look at how much I’ve improved throughout the course of this project.”

Lavoisier doing experiments