Lavoisier – the passionate father of Modern Chemistry
Born to a wealthy family in Paris in 1743, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier was a polymath who was born an aristocrat and trained as a lawyer but never practised as he became passionate about Chemistry – meticulously and exhaustively experimenting, discovering and naming amongst many things; oxygen and hydrogen and that animals produced energy through breathing.
He did this using a “Cochon-d’Inde” (a guinea pig) placing the little critter in a machine he called his Calorimeter which was packed with snow and the guinea pig melted the ice with its body heat.
Lavoisier concluded, “la respiration est donc une combustion,” that is, breathing is a combustion, like that of a candle burning. Animals burned energy called calories whilst they breathed oxygen, a life-giving force.
Unfortunately….at the age of 24 he bought a share as a tax collector for the infamous hated Farmers General Wall in Paris: a wall that was built around Paris to ensure that all traders paid hefty taxes on any produce they bought into Paris to sell.
Only the poor paid these enormous taxes, the rich nobility did not have to.
How unfair was that? There was no regulation and these shady profiteers could charge what they liked.
At least Lavoisier was appalled by this inequity and stupid taxation system and tried unsuccessfully to institute taxes on all classes. He did however manage to abolish the Law of the Cloven Hoof : where Jews had been charged 30 pieces of silver simply to pass through regions such as Paris.
“The Republic needs neither scientists nor chemists“
When the Reign of Terror ensued after the storming of the Bastille and the execution of King Louis 16, Lavoisier was branded a traitor for his share in the Ferme Generale taxation system and sentenced to death.
Lavoisier’s importance to science was lamented with the statement :“Cela leur a pris seulement un instant pour lui couper la tête, mais la France pourrait ne pas en produire une autre pareille en une siècle.”
“It took them only an instant to cut off his head, but France may not produce another such head in a century.”
A year later, because of his enormous contribution to science and ensuing research, Lavoisier was exonerated by the French Government.