Sarah Albee: Good Chemist, Bad Chemistry
From: Sarah Albee
August 10, 2012 at 05:19AM
Antoine Lavoisier (1743 – 1794) has been called the “father of modern chemistry,” and he probably deserves it. The guy practically invented oxygen. He named both oxygen (1778) and hydrogen (1783) and put together one of the first tables of elements. He helped construct the metric system. He figured out the Law of Conservation of Mass. He invented the system of chemical nomenclature that is still largely in use today. Oh and the theory of combustion.
He was a man of contradictions: an aristocrat, but socially liberal. He was a tax collector, but he worked to reform the corrupt French tax system. He also married an accomplished and intelligent woman, Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, who translated his documents and illustrated his scientific texts.
When Jean-Paul Marat tried to become a member of the Academy of Sciences, Lavoisier publicly belittled him. This made Marat furious, and Marat was not the sort of person you wanted to annoy. Marat later became a feared Revolutionary activist.
Lavoisier was a member of the Farmer’s General, an unpopular private company that collected taxes and tariffs for the government. During the Reign of Terror, Marat denounced Lavoisier as an enemy of the people, and he was rounded up by government security forces along with the rest of the members of the Farmer’s General, and thrown into prison. After a farcical trial, Lavoisier was beheaded at the guillotine.
The mathematician Lagrange said of Lavoisier,
“It took them only a moment to sever that head, and a hundred years perhaps will not suffice to produce another like it.”