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MARGINALIA

Mme. Lavoisier

Roald Hoffmann

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

In telling the story of Mme. Lavoisier, I will not do justice (in several ways) to her husband. This young natural philosopher mastered the art of careful experimentation in chemistry and physics. Independently wealthy from his fermier's income, he filled a private laboratory with balances, burning lenses and metal vessels of an unmatched magnitude and quality. In a way, Lavoisier's science was the big science of his day. His feeling for balance found expression in science: "Nothing is gained, nothing is lost" could be applied equally to economics and to the mass balances of chemistry.Figure 2. Mme. Lavoisier's <em>nécessaire</em> . . .Click to Enlarge Image

Lavoisier gave the first correct accounts of burning, respiration and rusting. In bringing about the Chemical Revolution, he properly defined the elements (though he thought heat was one), showed that water was a compound and air a mixture, and proposed a new systematic nomenclature for chemistry. In the remainder of his time, he dealt with one practical problem after another—he debunked mesmerism, thought about contagious disease in cities, ensured that young America got its gunpowder, adjudicated disputes on ballooning and, after the revolution, participated in the work on the metric system. Citizen Lavoisier's work for the French Republic did not save him from the Jacobin terror. On May 8, 1794, he and his father-in-law were executed, along with 26 other Farmers General.








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