Lavoisier was the son of a wealthy Parisian lawyer, who hoped that his son would follow him in that profession. Although Lavoisier qualified as a lawyer in 1764, he became interested in science and he devoted much of his life to research in chemistry. He is shown here with his wife, Marie-Anne Pierrette, who assisted him in his experiments. Before he was twenty-five he had lectured to the French Academy on such diverse subjects as the divining rod, hypnotism and the construction of invalid chairs.
He was fascinated by the phenomenon of burning and, since he was rich enough to have the best in apparatus and chemicals, he worked tirelessly to try to understand it. He was the first to clearly recognize that air consists of two gases, one of which supports combustion and the other which does not. Lavoisier called the former gas oxygen and recognized that it was an element. (The latter gas was nitrogen.)
Lavoisier was one of the first chemists to recognize the importance of accurate measurements. His accurate determination of the masses of substances formed in reactions led him to the law of conservation of mass. He was also one of the first to demonstrate clearly the nature of elements and compounds. In a textbook that he wrote, he gave a table of elements that included many that we would recognize today. It was a great tragedy that he was arrested and guillotined during the French Revolution.