Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent

Portrait of Monsieur de Lavoisier and his Wife...
Portrait of Monsieur de Lavoisier and his Wife, chemist Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze via Wikipedia

Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent (1743-94) was a French chemist who demonstrated that air is a combination of oxygen and nitrogen.

The English clergyman, Joseph Priestly (1733-1804), had previously discovered a new gas that was later recognized as an element and named oxygen by Lavoisier.

No slouch when it came to innovation, Lavoisier introduced the nomenclature system for chemical compounds as well as the metric system. He also refuted the old phlogiston theory, which tried to account for fire by means of a fiery element supposedly residing in things that burn. To do so, Lavoisier showed that combustion requires a gas that has weight–i.e. oxygen.

In his groundbreaking work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), T. S. Kuhn makes much use of Lavoisier’s work with oxygen to illustrate Kuhn’s notion of the paradigm shift, a concept so prevalent today.¹

A tax collector in pre-revolutionary France, Lavoisier was sent to the guillotine in Paris despite his efforts to introduce reforms. This demonstrates how hordes of unthinking ‘revolutionaries’ may be ignorant, violent and anything but revolutionary.

¹ See Frederic Lawrence Holmes, Lavoisier and the chemistry of life: an exploration of scientific creativity:


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