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Antoine Lavoisier

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Early Life

Antoine Lavoisier was born in Paris, France on August 26, 1743. He grew up in an aristocratic and wealthy family. His father was a lawyer and his mother died when he was only five years old.

Antoine discovered his love for science while attending college. However, he initially was going to follow in his father's footsteps, earning a law degree.


Lavoisier never did practice law because he found science much more interesting. He had inherited a good deal of money when his mother died and was able to live as a nobleman, pursuing various interests. Lavoisier worked in various government positions and was elected to the Royal Academy of Science in 1764.

In 1775, Lavoisier set up a laboratory in Paris where he could run experiments. His lab became a gathering place of scientists. It was in this lab where Lavoisier made many of his important discoveries in chemistry. Lavoisier considered it important to use experiments, precise measurements, and facts in science.

The Law of Conservation of Mass

One of the main scientific theories of Lavoisier's time was the phlogiston theory. This theory stated that fire, or combustion, was made up of an element called phlogiston. Scientists thought that when things burned they released phlogiston into the air.

Lavoisier disproved the phlogiston theory. He demonstrated that there was an element called oxygen that played a major role in combustion. He also showed that the mass of products in a reaction are equal to the mass of the reactants. In other words, no mass is lost in a chemical reaction. This became known as the Law of Conservation of Mass and is one of the most important and basic laws of modern chemistry and physics.

The Elements and Chemical Nomenclature

Lavoisier spent a lot of time isolating elements and breaking down chemical compounds. He invented a system of naming chemical compounds that were made up of multiple elements. Much of his system is still in use today. He also named the element hydrogen.

Water is a Compound

During his experiments, Lavoisier discovered that water was a compound made of hydrogen and oxygen. Prior to his discovery, scientists throughout history had thought that water was an element.

The First Chemistry Textbook

In 1789, Lavoisier wrote the Elementary Treatise of Chemistry. This was the first chemistry textbook. The book contained a list of elements, the most recent theories and laws of chemistry (including the Conservation of Mass), and refuted the existence of phlogiston.


The French Revolution began in 1789. Lavoisier attempted to remain separate from the revolution, but because he had worked as a tax collector for the government, he was branded a traitor. On May 8, 1794 he was executed by guillotine. A year and a half after he was killed, the government said he had been falsely accused.

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