Born in 1743, Antoine Lavoisier is credited as being the first person to make use of the balance. He was known for his skills in experimentation and loved to separate the oxygen molecule from HgO. This led him to come up with the Law of Conservation, which states that matter is unable to be made or destroyed. It can only be rearranged and will never disappear.
This created the initial conversations on what an atom happened to be with exact definitions.
What Is the Atomic Theory?
The Atomic theory is the idea that all matter is made up of tiny, indivisible particles. These are referred to as atoms. In the modern version of the theory, each elemental atom is relatively identical, but differ and unite in different patterns that form compounds in a fixed proportion. Although some of the findings of this theory are modern, it is an idea that is nearly 2,500 years old.
The first person to propose the idea of an atom is believed to be Democritus, who was thought to be born in 460 BC. He discussed the idea that an “ultimate particle” existed and used the term “atomos” to describe it. Aristotle, who was 14 years old when Democritus died, was a proponent of this proposal. He felt that there were four elements and that you would have the same matter whenever you cut something in half. This theory would hold prominence for the next 2,000 years.
The modern Atomic theory first starting developing when the Phlogiston theory was offered by Johann Becher and Georg Stahl. When something was burned, they posited, then it lost “phlogiston” to the air. This idea continued through the discovery of oxygen, which was initially called “dephlogisticated” air by Joseph Priestly, but would be changed by Antoine Lavoisier.
How a Visit from Joseph Priestly Changed Everything
In 1774, Joseph Priestly and Antoine Lavoisier had a meeting of the minds. This inspired the creative spirit within Lavoisier and caused him to begin studying the burning process very carefully. It is these observations which would bring about the Combustion Theory.
The Combustion theory was the first that would eliminate phologiston. Lavoisier proposed that combustion was a reaction of a metal or organic substance with common air and that most acids contained this air. He would call this breathable air “oxygen,” which is admittedly a lot easier to say than depholgisticated air.
Lavoisier’s work would also bring chemistry back to a stricter method of conduct. He proposed that it was necessary to distinguish fact from fiction when conducting experiments or offering a hypothesis. He used the Combustion theory as the starting point for this idea, which would eventually lead to the development of the atomic theory.
In time, this would also lead Lavoisier to finally propose the Law of Conservation, which would eventually become the foundation of modern chemistry. Many call Lavoisier the “Father of Modern Chemistry.”
How Lavoisier Completed His Work
Lavoisier was a nobleman who is recognized for changing science from being qualitative to being quantitative. He was a member of several aristocratic councils and married into a family that was involved in tax collection. His political, personal, and economic activities helped to find his scientific research. Yet as the French Revolution began to gain momentum, he found all of his activities to be at risk.
By 1793, all learned societies, which included the Academy of Sciences, were suppressed. In November of that year, the arrest of all former tax gatherers was ordered, which included Lavoisier. He was branded a traitor, accused of selling unauthorized tobacco, and condemned during the 1794 Reign of Terror because of his efforts to stop the freedom and economic stripping of all foreign-born scientists in France.
Lavoisier was executed by the guillotine late in 1794. Just 18 months later, the French government would exonerate him.
After exoneration, the French government returned his personal possessions to his widow Marie. It was commonly believed that Madame Lavoisier was just as much a scientist as her husband and it is believed that she helped to continue promoting his work, which eventually led to Joseph Proust being able to propose the Law of Constant Composition in 1799.
Antoine Lavoisier might have had his work stopped by the French Revolution, but that would not stop his legacy. His contributions to the Atomic theory are considered to be an integral component of modern science and all of the benefits and potential dangers that goes along with it.