Lavoisier and the Birth of Modern Chemistry

  • John Hudson


In the space of about 20 years commencing in 1770, the science of chemistry experienced a change more complete and more fundamental than any that had occurred before or has occurred since. Prior to 1770, almost all chemists accepted the doctrine of phlogiston as the great unifying principle of the science, and, if there were some facts that were hard to reconcile with the phlogiston theory, it was assumed that a modification or refinement of the theory would suffice. By 1790 not only had most chemists accepted the oxygen theory of combustion, but also the nomenclature of chemistry had been reformed, the modern concept of an element had been established, and there had appeared the first textbook to interpret chemistry in terms of the new ideas. All this was principally the work of one man, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794). It is one of the ironies of history that Lavoisier, who brought about what has been called The Chemical Revolution, was himself the innocent victim of a political revolution. He was sent to the guillotine while he was still at the height of his powers.


Lead Oxide French Revolution Modern Chemistry Innocent Victim Laboratory Notebook 
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Copyright information

© John Hudson 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Hudson
    • 1
  1. 1.Anglia Polytechnic UniversityCambridgeUK

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