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Lavoisier, Antoine-Laurent


(b. Paris, France, 26 August 1743; d. Paris, 8 May 1794),

chemistry, physiology, geology, economics, social reform. For the original article on Lavoisier see DSB, vol. 8.

While Henry Guerlac’s article in the original DSB offers a reliable and useful guide to the life and works of the French scientist, since 1973 new and important documentary evidence on Lavoisier has come to light that has made a reassessment of his contributions to science necessary. This contribution offers a brief survey of the new evidence in chronological order.

Education . In October 1754 Lavoisier entered the Collège des Quatre Nations, popularly known as the Collège Mazarin, in Paris. While there he was awarded two prizes for Latin and Greek translations in 1755 and 1759. As early as the autumn of 1760, Lavoisier was taking the course in mathematics and physics taught by the astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. In April 1761, in a report for a prize to be awarded by the Académie Besançon, Lavoisier exalted the contributions of such scientists as Archimedes, Bacon, Descartes, and Newton as positive examples of establishing a good reputation through beneficial and useful works. In 1761 he began to attend the chemical lectures of Guillaume François Rouelle and of the Parisian apothecary Charles Louis La Planche. At about the same time he followed a course in experimental physics taught by Jean Nollet. In an autobiographical note written around 1792, Lavoisier recalled this intense period of study thus:

When I began for the first time to attend a course in chemistry, I was surprised to see how much obscurity surrounded the first approaches to the science, even though the professor I had chosen [Rouelle] was regarded as the clearest and most accessible to beginners, and even though he took infinite pains to make himself understood. I had taken a useful course in physics, I had followed the experiments of the Abbé Nollet, I had also studied elementary mathematics with some success in the works of the Abbé La Caille had attended his lectures for a year. (Beretta, 1994, pp. 15–16)

Surprising as it may seem, Lavoisier regarded La Planche as “the clearest” chemical teacher in Paris. La Planche’s preference for beginning his course with analysis of the mineral kingdom instead of the vegetable one, as was customary, was regarded by the young Lavoisier as an innovation that would eventually prove important in his classification of chemical operations. While following Rouelle’s lectures on the vegetable kingdom in 1761, Lavoisier managed to get a copy of Denis Diderot’s notes, and he apparently made a copy of the course for himself. Lavoisier followed Rouelle’s course for three years until 1763, when he wrote a note (a brief paper) on chemistry that revealed his preference for a quantitative and instrumental approach to the science and that showed little deference to his teachers.

After Lacaille’s and Nollet’s courses, Lavoisier became interested in the precision achieved with various instruments and in experimental physics and chemistry. Between 1761 and 1766 he regularly made barometric observations at his Parisian residence and during his natural-historical excursions outside Paris. In 1765 and 1766, following a meticulous and assiduous series of experiments, he perfected a light-reflecting lamp to improve the lighting of the streets of Paris, and his first attempts to improve chemical apparatuses were made in 1767.

Interest in Minerology . In 1763 the distinguished naturalist Jean Étienne Guettard, an old friend of Lavoisier’s father, was advising Lavoisier and may have taken the latter under his wing as early as 1761. Guettard criticized the traditional approach to natural history and advocated a science of mineralogy supported by chemistry, topography, and physics. Since 1746 Guettard had been collecting material for a mineralogical map of France, but the task proved to be too great for a single naturalist. After Lavoisier’s apprenticeship, Guettard, in 1763, decided to take the young scientist along as his assistant during his geological and mineralogical excursions outside Paris. Guettard’s interdisciplinary approach to mineralogical research became evident in the writings of the young Lavoisier at a very early stage.

Lavoisier’s budding interest in chemical mineralogy is revealed in a note dated 16 August 1763, in which he discussed a stone collected at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, outside of Paris. About a year later, guided by Guettard, he intensified his mineralogical survey of the regions around Paris, Mézières, and Champagne. He began to carry a barometer around with him, which he used to measure the levels of rock layers. It is not clear where he got the idea of using the barometer in geology, but this probably led to the idea of studying mineral ores in relation to their stratigraphic positions.

In July 1764 Lavoisier began to record his experiments with gypsum in a journal. This research was important, not only because chemists and mineralogists were interested in determining this mineral’s composition, but also because Guettard considered the distribution of gypsum to be a good indicator of the mineralogical composition of the areas surrounding Paris that he had studied in the early 1750s. During his field surveys Lavoisier collected enough gypsum specimens to subject them to a comprehensive chemical study. On his travels of 1763–1765 he collected about one hundred gypsum specimens, most of which are still preserved at the Muséum d’histoire naturelle Henri-Lecoq in Clermont-Ferrand. Unlike Johann Friedrich Pott, who had subjected his gypsum specimens to fire, Lavoisier preferred to dissolve his specimens in water, because this was a simpler and more natural method of analysis. This choice of method is explained by Lavoisier’s desire not only to break gypsum down into its constituent parts, but also to produce an artificial sample by combining vitriolic acid and calcareous earth. Toward this end, in August 1764 he began to use a hydrometer to achieve exact measurements of specific gravity. From then on he used this instrument to measure the specific gravities of components of chemical solutions. In 1768, in his first report devoted to this instrument, Lavoisier defended the originality of his approach in the following words:

It is to the art of combination that the knowledge of the specific gravities of fluids can bring most light. This aspect of chemistry is much less advanced than we thought, we possess barely the rudiments of it. …

If it is possible for the human spirit to penetrate these mysteries [connected to chemical combination], it is by means of research into the specific gravity of fluids that one may hope to achieve this. The quantity of real saline matter contained in the two fluids to be combined, their mean specific gravity with that resulting from their mixture, in other words the result of the same experiment, repeated on the same mixture combined with all the others, may produce a considerable quantity of data leading to the solution of the problem. (Lavoisier, 1862–1893, 3, pp. 448, 450)

Therefore, it was no coincidence that in the gypsum experiments at the beginning of 1765, Lavoisier began to use balance sheets to compare the weights of reactants before and after distillation.

In 1766 Lavoisier became acquainted with Johann Friedrich Meyer’s theory that the causticity of lime is due to acidum pingue, a theory that was published in French translation under the title Essais de chimie sur la chaux vive (1766; Chemical essays on quicklime). In a memorandum dated May 1766, Lavoisier writes of deciding to try to verify Meyer’s theory by embarking on a new series of experiments on the calcination of calcareous earths. This was several years earlier than the autumn of 1772, when, according to Guerlac in The Crucial Year (1961), “Lavoisier acquired most of his knowledge of the work done abroad on the chemistry of air” (p. 71). In the same year Lavoisier purchased numerous chemical and mineralogical books from the library of the mineralogist Jean Hellot (who had died in 1766), among which was a Latin manuscript version, with notes and comments by Hellot, of Georg Ernst Stahl’s treatise on sulfur.

After his geological travels in Alsace with Guettard in 1767, Lavoisier began to focus on chemical experiments in a more systematic way, and between 1768 and 1774 he was entirely absorbed in his research on pneumatic chemistry. In November 1774 the Italian natural philosopher Giambattista Beccaria reported to Lavoisier concerning his experiments on calcinations. In Elettricismo artificiale (1772; Artificial electricity) Beccaria outlined an original application of the concept of electricity for understanding chemical combinations and operations. According to Beccaria, experiments performed by submitting metals and calxes to the action of an electrical machine showed that calcined metals could be revivified (reduced) by a discharge of electrical sparks. Within the Stahlian interpretation of matter, the revivification of metals was due to the addition of phlogiston and its consequent combination with the calx. This interpretation contradicted the gravimetric data, which indicated a loss of weight during reduction. Furthermore, phlogiston, which was regarded by Georg Stahl as an earthy and heavy substance, had not yet been isolated. Beccaria’s experiments thus hinted at the identification of phlogiston with electricity. Electricity was also supposed to cause the calcination of metals and the release of their phlogiston. Beccaria’s identification of phlogiston and electricity had a large impact on the European chemical community, and many naturalists welcomed his experiments as an authoritative demonstration of Stahl’s principle of inflammability. Lavoisier was influenced and inspired by Beccaria’s experiments on the calcination of metals and attentively followed the research on electricity. Sometime after his encounter with Beccaria, he began to make observations and experiments on his own.

The Synthesis and Analysis of Water . The origins of Lavoisier’s experiments from 1783 to 1785 on the synthesis and analysis of water are rather obscure, and since the nineteenth century, many historians and chemists have raised doubts about the originality of Lavoisier’s contributions to this crucial breakthrough. While the research by Henry Cavendish and James Watt in this field is well documented, their impact on Lavoisier remained as of 2007 far from clear. Even less well-known was the pervasive influence exerted by the pneumatic experiments performed by two Italian natural philosophers: Felice Fontana and Alessandro Volta. In 1777 Fontana invented an instrument composed of a sort of upside-down test tube immersed in a tray containing mercury, and it was included by Jacques-Louis David in the famous 1788 portrait of Lavoisier and his wife. Using this instrument, Fontana found that extinguishing red-hot charcoal in mercury contained in a glass tube containing mercury and immersed in a bath caused the absorption of a great quantity of air. Subsequently, other European naturalists used this method to experiment with red-hot charcoal and various types of air, and in 1782 Fontana himself discovered that if one extinguished red-hot charcoal in a glass bell full of water, inflammable air (hydrogen) was liberated.

This was a significant discovery because, if taken to its theoretical conclusion, it would have shown Fontana the compound nature of water. Lavoisier certainly knew of this experiment, because in 1783, in his famous Mémoire dans lequel on a pour objet de prouver que l’eau n’est point une substance simple (Report which seeks to prove that water is a simple substance), he declared, “The Abbé Fontana, having extinguished the red-hot charcoal in water, under a bell filled with water, drew therefrom a significant quantity of inflammable air…. As Abbé Fontana had shown with charcoal, [this method] proved that red-hot iron extinguished with water, under a bell, also produced inflammable gas” (1862–1893, 2, p. 341). Fontana’s device was thus one of the fundamental instruments that led Lavoisier to the threshold of achieving his chemical revolution.

In the spring of 1782 Lavoisier met with Alessandro Volta in Paris and collaborated in a series of experiments on the absorption of electricity and the vaporization of fluids. The experiments on the vaporization of water and the use of several electrical instruments suggest that during his stay in Paris, Volta had demonstrated for Lavoisier and other French scientists his electrical eudiometer, or as he also called it, electrical gun. In the spring of 1777 Volta used this instrument for the first time in experiments in which he employed electrical discharges in a closed receiver to measure the inflammability of various types of air. During one of these experiments Volta observed that in the combustion of inflammable air (hydrogen) in presence of dephlogisticated air (oxygen), these airs ceased to be gases and left dew in the receiver. Because this result was completely unexpected, he did not identify the dew with water. Interestingly, it was not until 1784, after the publication of key reports by Cavendish and Lavoisier, that Volta began to understand the meaning of his experiments; only in the early 1790s, however, did he accept that water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen.

Sometime between 1782 and 1784 Lavoisier used Volta’s electrical eudiometer, and in August 1784 the chemist Jean Darcet, at Lavoisier’s request, sent Volta a report on the latest experiments by Lavoisier and Jean-Baptiste Meusnier de la Place on the decomposition of water. In the letter accompanying the report, Darcet showed that he was aware not only of Volta’s eudiometer but also of its possible consequences for Lavoisier’s work on the synthesis of water. From Darcet’s testimony it is clear that Volta, while in Paris, had demonstrated his electrical gun and performed the experiments that allowed him to synthesize water. It is very unlikely that Volta showed these experiments to Darcet but not to Lavoisier; even if he did, however, Darcet probably would have told his colleague at the Académie des sciences about them. Moreover, three of Volta’s electrical guns are in an inventory of Lavoisier’s laboratory, compiled in November 1794. Thus, sometime after 1782, Lavoisier used Volta’s eudiometer to replicate the experiments for synthesizing water with a different and much cheaper apparatus. With Fontana’s and Volta’s devices it was simple and easy to analyze and synthesize water, but these successes were not enough to persuade a skeptical European chemical community that water was a compound of two gases. After all, neither Fontana nor Volta understood the consequences of their experiments before Lavoisier’s experiments on a grand scale.

When Lavoisier sought to design an experiment demonstrating both the synthesis and analysis of water in one process, it became necessary to construct a large gasometer. Lavoisier went to great expense to construct this apparatus, built by the Parisian instrument maker Pierre Bernard Mégnié between 1783 and 1787, not only to persuade a skeptical public but also to bring a high degree of accuracy to chemistry.

Historians have debated the role and efficiency of physical instruments such as the hydrometer (1768), the calorimeter (1782), the gasometer (1785), and the precision balances made by Nicolas Fortin (1788). While such contributions by historians have thrown light on important aspects of Lavoisier’s approach to experimental procedures, little has been done to assess the effective quality of these devices, all of which are still preserved at the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris. One notable exception is the late twentieth-century reconstruction of the ice calorimeter of Lavoisier and Pierre-Simon Laplace and reenactment of

their experiments on specific heat of 1783. The results, obtained after a laborious reconstruction of the experimental settings, were remarkably accurate and not far from historic levels of precision.

Chemical Nomenclature . The unfavorable reception of Lavoisier’s new chemical nomenclature in the French press in 1787 inspired one member of his laboratory, Pierre-Auguste Adet, to propose the creation of a new chemical journal. To obtain government authorization to publish, the new journal was initially proposed as a French translation of Lorenz Crell’s Chemische Annales, founded in 1784. While Lavoisier initially was not directly involved in the project, at the end of 1788 the Société des Annales de chimie was founded; it included Lavoisier as treasurer as well as many of his collaborators, among whom Claude Louis Berthollet and Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau became particularly active. In 1789 the first issue of the Annales de chimie was published by Lavoisier’s printer, Gaspard-Joseph Cuchet, and it soon became a formidable means of propagating the new chemistry. After the publication in 1789 of his Traité élémentaire de chimie (which presented the theory, nomenclature, and apparatuses of the new chemistry), Lavoisier undertook an ambitious campaign of persuasion.

Human Respiration . In 1790 Lavoisier began an intensive series of experiments on human respiration, the results of which were only partly published in the Annales de chimie. In this enterprise Lavoisier was assisted by Armand Séguin, a promising young scientist who had been introduced to Lavoisier by Antoine François Four-croy in 1785 during the large-scale experiments on the synthesis and analysis of water. Lavoisier became very fond of Séguin and relied heavily on his assistance and ingenuity during the experiments on respiration and transpiration. The background of this project went back almost two decades. Between 1773 and 1774 Lavoisier ascertained that animals absorbed a part of air through the lungs and that it was fixed there. In 1775 he understood that during animal respiration, oxygen was converted into fixed air, and that the oxygen then combined with blood. And in 1777 he was able to conclude that respiration was a slow combustion of carbon and hydrogen similar in every way to what took place with a lit candle, so that a breathing animal could be compared to a combustible body that was burning. During the experiments on heat carried out with Laplace in 1783, Lavoisier undertook quantitative calorimetric observations of the respiration of guinea pigs, comparing the ratios of the heat produced during respiration with that released during the combustion of charcoal.

In 1790 Lavoisier and Séguin finally decided to explore the physiology of human respiration and to test further Lavoisier’s idea that respiration and combustion are analogous. Séguin was the first to observe that the increase in pulse rate was proportional to the bodily effort expended and that the ratio between pulse rate and effort could easily be quantified. Séguin became a human guinea pig, measuring with remarkable accuracy his consumption of oxygen in different situations, such as effort, rest, and digestion.

Because Lavoisier was increasingly involved in public affairs, the publication of these results was partial and largely unexploited. Apart from an unnoticed Italian translation of two reports published by the Venetian apothecary Vicenzo Dandolo in 1792, the revolutionary work of Lavoisier and Séguin on the physiology of human respiration appeared only in fragments published between 1793 and 1814.

Publishing Projects . In April 1793 Lavoisier renewed a previous contract with the Parisian publisher Charles-Joseph Panckoucke to include the “Régie des poudres” (The control of powders) in the Dictionnaire d’artillerie of the Encyclopédie méthodique. Lavoisier prepared entries for “Coal” and “Detonation” but these, together with entries prepared by other contributors, were not published until 1997.

In 1791 Lavoisier undertook the preparation of a new, more comprehensive work to be titled Mémoires de physique et chimie (1793; Memoir on physics and chemistry) in order to accomplish his long-cherished project of making chemistry as exact as physics was. In a manuscript note of 1792 (Archives de l’Académie des sciences, Paris) intended to serve as an introduction, he wrote:

It is easy to see that these two sciences overlap at a good many points and that they have a lot in common; it is impossible to present a good physics course without introducing certain aspects of chemistry and, vice versa to create a good chemistry course without beginning with a few elementary notions of physics. These points of juncture between the two sciences increase day by day, since physicists and chemists have adopted a common approach, taken from that of the mathematicians, because they have rejected supposition and they no longer accept as truth that which is not proven through experimentation. (Beretta, “Lavoisier and His Last Printed Work,” 2001, p. 334)

The publication of this work was suddenly interrupted in the summer of 1793 after the Académie des sciences closed down. The first page proofs of the planned five volumes had arrived at Pierre Samuel Dupont’s printing house on 10 March 1793, and it appears that the printing went ahead under the direct supervision of Lavoisier, and probably also Séguin, until July 1793. In the summer of 1805, Madame Lavoisier started to distribute the first copies of a collection of proofs of the Mémoires de physique et chimie to selected friends and acquaintances; of the five volumes envisaged, 416 pages of the first volume (a nearly complete set), the whole of the second volume (413 pages), and 64 pages of the fourth volume were produced. The late distribution of this work by Madame Lavoisier affected both its diffusion and impact, so much so that it has often been neglected by historians of the chemical revolution. Yet the Mémoires are in fact crucial to understanding the development of Lavoisier’s latest chemical investigations.

The work was intended to be divided into three parts. In the first, Lavoisier and Séguin selected those reports that, owing to their theoretical and experimental value, presented the most important chemical facts analytically.

In the second part, Lavoisier and Séguin presented a dictionary of the main topics treated, thus facilitating the task of a reader who wished to study a particular subject. Finally, in the third part they presented a summary of the elementary truths presented in the first two parts, thus providing a synthetic idea of what had been set out analytically in the first part. This was evidently a highly ambitious project, the precise outline of which cannot be determined without further evidence.

The Mémoires contain forty reports overall, of which only twenty-eight were written by Lavoisier, eleven appearing for the first time. Even to those reports previously published, Lavoisier sometimes made significant changes, and it is unfortunate that Jean Baptiste Dumas and Edouard Grimaux preferred to include in the national edition of Lavoisier’s Oeuvres (published between 1862 and 1893) the original reports without taking any notice of Lavoisier’s revised and corrected versions. Of the remaining reports, ten were authored by Séguin; one by Séguin, Fourcroy, and Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin; and one by Louis Charles Henri Macquart and Fourcroy. Lavoisier and Séguin were thus the main authors. Lavoisier’s most original contribution in the Mémoires was his reassessment of the role of chemical affinities and caloric. To explain why some bodies, when subjected to the action of caloric, remained solid and did not decompose, he hypothesized that a force in some way maintained them in this form and compensated for the dilating force of heat:

We must therefore admit the existence of a force whose effects are opposed to the preceding one, which restrains the molecules of bodies and binds them one to another, and this force, whatever the cause of it may be, is universal gravitation, the force by virtue of which a molecule of matter tends to combine with another molecule, in a word: attraction.

We must thus consider the molecules making up a body as obeying two forces; caloric, which continuously tends to separate them, and attraction, which counterbalances this force. As long as the latter, counterbalancing force, attraction, is victorious, the body remains solid. And if these two forces are in a state of equilibrium? The body becomes liquid. Finally, when the separating force of caloric is stronger, the body passes into a gaseous state. (Mémoires, 1, pp. 5–6.)

Even if his point of view was closer to that of a physicist rather than to that of a chemist, Lavoisier had decided to approach the problem of chemical affinities, a theme that he had previously dismissed because it relied on a qualitative approach to chemical reactions. To explain the different degrees of affinity between different substances within a quantitative framework, Lavoisier resorted to the theory of their atomic configurations. Early in his scientific career Lavoisier supported an atomistic philosophy of matter. In a manuscript fragment dated 1768, he outlined a molecular hypothesis on the structure of matter. Probably aware of the experimental difficulties of proving such a hypothesis for explaining chemical reactions, Lavoisier waited until 1793, when, after developing his theory on chemical heat, he felt more confident of the validity of his early idea on matter. Accepting theories that René Just Haüy had successfully applied to mineralogy, Lavoisier by 1793 believed that differences in atomic configurations effectively explained why bodies have different capacities to withstand heat and also explained the greater or lesser affinities between chemical substances.

Lavoisier closed his essay with an important distinction between aggregative and integrant molecules. He felt that he had sufficiently demonstrated the principle that the molecules in bodies never touched each other and that the distance between them was maintained by a given quantity of caloric. This principle he now regarded as valid also for aggregative molecules—in other words, those that made up a mixed body. Examples of such molecules are the molecules of a salt or an acid, because in these kinds of substances, two or three different elements can be isolated, and hence also two or three different kinds of molecules (these “molecules” are actually atoms, but such a distinction was unknown at the time). Lavoisier thought that caloric also combined with integrant and elementary molecules:

It is more than possible, perhaps even probable, that there exist types of combinations where the elementary molecules touch, and it is undoubtedly in these kinds of combinations that the caloric enters as an integrant part in the form of combined caloric.

It is high time today, now that the main phenomena that accompany releases and absorptions of caloric are well known, that geometricians try to test by calculation the various hypotheses that could be made to explain these phenomena. (Mémoires, 2004, 1, p. 27)

Lavoisier’s tentative distinction between aggregative, integrant, and elementary molecules was new and preceded the debate on the atomic structure of matter by almost a decade. This corpuscular view was complemented by Lavoisier’s assumption that atoms are indivisible and that, therefore, their nature is radically different from what he formerly attributed to chemical elements. Admittedly, when Lavoisier set forth this hypothesis, he was well aware that experimental practice available in chemical laboratories was still too primitive to allow an appreciation of the nature of constituent molecules. Despite these limitations, Lavoisier was the first scientist to attempt a chemical definition of the molecule. An in-depth study of the numerous unpublished manuscripts of the period 1792–1793 preserved in the Archives de l’Académie des sciences in Paris is anticipated to cast new light on the theoretical significance of this attempt.

Lavoisier’s Public Career . From his youth onward, Lavoisier was eager to have a good reputation in the academic world. He participated in the 1761 prize competitions of the Académie d’Amiens and the Académie de Besançon. In 1766 he collaborated on a draft for reforming the Académie royale des sciences in Paris. After successful efforts in his scientific endeavors, he joined the Académie des sciences, also in Paris, in 1768, and he thereafter became a member of more than twenty scientific academies. His keen interest in the institutional organization of science was often rewarded with prominent directive positions at the Académie des sciences, as well as at other French academies. Lavoisier’s career within these academic institutions was rooted in his ideas on the practice of science, which emphasized the importance of teamwork and of the organization of experimental endeavors.

In his youth Lavoisier worked for years with Guettard. When he finished his apprenticeship, Lavoisier often collaborated with other chemists. In 1771 he prepared his first experiments on the combustion of diamond in the laboratory of Guillaume François Rouelle, which were continued with a large lens one year later with Pierre Joseph Macquer, Jacques Mathurin Brisson, and Louis Claude Cadet de Gassicourt. In 1776 Lavoisier organized a prize competition on improving the quality of saltpeter together with Patrick d’Arcy, Cadet de Gassicourt, Macquer, Herni François de Paul Lefèvre d’Ormesson, and Balthazar Georges Sage. In 1773 Lavoisier began an ambitious experimental program on the nature of various airs together with Jean Baptiste Michel Bucuqet, and, occasionally, Jean Charles Philibert Trudaine de Montigny, whose laboratory was often used as the site of their experiments. In 1782 Lavoisier and Laplace undertook research on the nature of heat, and while in Paris in the spring of the same year, Volta regularly joined Lavoisier in his laboratory for more than three months. On 24 June 1783, Lavoisier carried out some experiments on the production of water by detonating oxygen and hydrogen under a bell jar, this in the presence of Laplace, Fourcroy, Charles Blagden, Alexandre Théophile Vadermonde, Meusnier, Adrien Marie Legendre, and Jean Baptiste Le Roy. The later experiments of 1785 involved Séguin and Vauquelin. In 1787 Lavoisier presented his new nomenclature together with Fourcroy, Berthollet, Guyton de Morveau, Adet, and Jean-Henri Hassenfratz. In 1788 he published a French translation, with commentary, of Richard Kirwan’s Essay on Phlogiston (1787), on which he collaborated with his wife, Marie Anne Pierrette Lavoisier, née Paulze, Gaspard Monge, Berthollet, Guyton de Morveau, and Fourcroy. For Lavoisier, such collaborations were part of his pervasive strategy to change the structure of chemistry.


Most of Lavoisier’s papers (more than 4,000 documents) are preserved at the Archives de l’Académie des science in Paris. A significant collection of books and manuscripts coming from Lavoisier’s collection is kept at the Kroch Library at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York). The instruments are preserved at the Musée des Arts et métiers in Paris. Four thousand minerals and a few manuscripts are preserved at the Musée Lecoq at Clermont Ferrand. The chemical part of Lavoisier’s library is preserved at the Bibliothèque de l’Institut in Paris. See Panopticon Lavoisier (below) for a complete bibliography.


Oeuvres de Lavoisier. 6 vols. Paris: Imprimerie impériale,

1862–1893. This national edition of Lavoisier’s collected works is both incorrect and largely incomplete: The original spelling published in Lavoisier’s first and original editions of his work was modernized, and most of his papers preserved in the archives, including the laboratory notebooks, are not published.

Oeuvres de Lavoisier: Correspondance. Vols. 1–3, edited by René Fric. Paris: Albin Michel, 1955–1964. Vol. 4, edited by Michelle Goupil. Paris: Belin, 1986. Vols. 5–6, edited by Patrice Bret. Paris: Académie des Sciences, 1993 and 1997. Volume 7 is forthcoming in 2007. An additional volume, including Lavoisier’s correspondence with Jean Etienne Guettard and the numerous unpublished letters of the period 1763–1780, will follow.

With Pierre Simon Laplace. Memoir on Heat. Translated by Henry Guerlac. New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1982.

De la richiesse territoriale de la France. Edited by Jean-Claude Perrot. Paris: Editions du C.T.H.S., 1988.

Mémoires de physique et de chimie. 2 vols. Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.

Panopticon Lavoisier. Edited by Marco Beretta. Available from The most comprehensive edition of Lavoisier’s material. Includes a catalog of all the manuscripts, Lavoisier’s bibliography, the bibliography on Lavoisier, the catalogue of the minerals, the instruments, the library and the iconography. Also contains the publication in text format of Lavoisier’s national edition of his works as well thousands of digital reproductions of manuscripts, minerals, instruments, books, and other materials.


Bandinelli, Angela. “1783, Lavoisier and Laplace: Another

Crucial Year—Antiphlogistic Chemistry and the Investigation on Living Beings between the Eighteenth and the Nineteenth Centuries,” Nuncius: Journal of the History of Science, 18 (2003): 127–139.

Bensaude-Vincent, Bernadette. “A View of the Chemical Revolution through Contemporary Textbooks: Lavoisier,

Fourcroy, and Chaptal.” British Journal for the History of Science 23 (1990): 435–460.

——. Lavoisier: Mémoires d’une revolution. Paris: Flammarion, 1993. A critical and comprehensive survey of Lavoisier’s historiography.

——, and Ferdinando Abbri, eds. Lavoisier in European Context: Negotiating a New Language for Chemistry. Canton, MA: Science History Publications-USA, 1995.

Beretta, Marco. “Chemists in the Storm: Lavoisier, Priestley, and the French Revolution.” Nuncius: Journal of the History of Science 8 (1993): 75–104.

——. The Enlightenment of Matter: The Definition of Chemistry from Agricola to Lavoisier. Canton, MA: Science History Publications-USA, 1993.

——. A New Course in Chemistry: Lavoisier’s First Chemical Paper. Florence, Italy: Leo S. Olschki, 1994.

——. Bibliotheca Lavoisieriana: The Catalogue of the Library of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier. Florence, Italy: Leo S. Olschki, 1995.

——. “Pneumatics vs. ‘Aerial Medicine’: Salubrity and Respirability of Air at the End of the Eighteenth Century.” In Nuova Voltiana: Studies on Volta and His Times. Vol. 2, edited by Fabio Bevilacqua and Lucio Fregonese. Milan, Italy: Editore Ulrico Hoepli, 2000.

——. “From Nollet to Volta: Lavoisier and Electricity.” Revue d’histoire des sciences 54 (2001): 29–52.

——. Imaging a Career in Science: The Iconography of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier. Canton, MA: Science History Publications-USA, 2001.

——. “Lavoisier and His Last Printed Work: The Mémoires de physiques et de chemie (1802).” Annals of Science 58 (2001): 327–356.

——. “Lavoisier’s Collection of Instruments: A Checkered History.” In Musa Musaei: Studies on Scientific Instruments and Collections in Honour of Mara Miniati, edited by Marco Beretta, Paolo Galluzzi, and Carlo Triarico. Florence, Italy: Leo S. Olschki, 2003.

—— “Collected, Analyzed, Displayed: Lavoisier and Minerals.” In From Private to Public: Natural Collections and Museums, edited by Marco Beretta. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications-USA, 2005.

——, ed. Lavoisier in Perspective. Munich, Germany: Deutsches Museum, 2005.

Bret, Patrice, ed. “Débats et chantiers actuels autour de Lavoisier et de la révolution chimique.” Revue d’histoire des sciences 48 (1995): 1–2. Double issue devoted specifically to Lavoisier.

——. Lavoisier et l’Encyclopédie Méthodique: Le manuscrit des régisseurs des poudres et salpêtres. Florence, Italy: Leo S. Olschki, 1997.

——. “Les origines et l’organisation éditoriale des Annales de chimie (1787–1791).” In Lavoisier: Correspondance. Vol. 6. Edited by Maurice Bret. Paris: Académie des sciences, 1997.

——. L’état, l’armée, la science: L’invention de la recherche publique en France (1763–1830). Rennes, France: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2002.

——. “Dévenir des héros: Le mémoire inédit de Lavoisier au concours d’éloquence de l’Académie de Besançon en 1761.” Dix-huitième siècle 37 (2005): 329–346.

Cotty, Gaspard Hermann. Dictionnaire d’artillerie, Encyclopédie méthodique. Paris: Agasse, 1822.

Demeulenaere-Douyère, Christiane. “A propos d’une entreprise intellectuelle: La publication des oeuvres et de la correspondance de Lavoisier.” La vie des sciences, comptes rendus, série générale, 11 (1994): 319–332.

——. Il y a 200 ans Lavoisier: Actes du Colloque organisé à l’occasion du bicentenaire de la mort d’Antoine Laurent Lavoisier le 8 mai 1794. Paris: Lavoisier TecDoc, 1995

Crosland, Maurice. “Science and Secret Weapons Development in Revolutionary France, 1792–1804: A Documentary History.” Historical Studies in Physical and Biological Sciences 23 (1992): 35–152

——. In the Shadow of Lavoisier: The Annales de Chimie and the Establishment of a New Science. London: British Society for the History of Science, 1994.

Dhombres, Nicole, and Jean Dhombres. Naissance d’un nouveau pouvoir: Sciences et savantes en France, 1793–1824. Paris: Payot, 1989.

Donovan, Arthur, ed. “The Chemical Revolution: Essays in Reinterpretation.” Osiris, second series 4 (1988), special issue.

——. Antoine Lavoisier: Science, Administration, and Revolution. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993. An insightful biography.

Durand, Yves. Les fermiers généraux aux XVIIIe siècle. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971.

Duveen, Denis I. Supplement to A Bibliography of the Works of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794). London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1965.

——, and Herbert Klickstein, A Bibliography of the Works of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier. London: Dawsons, 1954.

Gillispie, Charles Coulston. Science and Polity in France at the End of the Old Regime. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

——. Science and Polity in France: The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Years. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Gough, Jerrry B. “The Origin of Lavoisier’s Theory of the Gaseous State.” In The Analytic Spirit: Essays in the History of Science in Honor of Henry Guerlac, edited by Harry Woolf. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1981.

——. “Lavoisier’s Memoirs on the Nature of Water and Their Place in the Chemical Revolution.” Ambix 30 (1983): 89–106.

Guerlac, Henri. Lavoisier—The Crucial Year: The Background and Origin of His First Experiments on Combustion in 1772. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1961.

——. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier: Chemist and Revolutionary. New York: Scribner, 1975.

——. “Laplace’s Collaboration with Lavoisier.” In Essays and Papers in the History of Modern Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. ———. “The Lavoisier Papers—A Checkered History.” Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences 29 (1979): 95–100.

Goupil, Michelle, ed. Lavoisier et la révolution chimique. Paris: Sabix, 1992.

Heering, Peter. “Weighing the Heat: The Replication of the Experiments with the Ice-calorimeter of Lavoisier and Laplace.” In Lavoisier in Perspective, edited by Marco Beretta. Munich, Germany: Deutsches Museum, 2005.

Holmes, Frederic Lawrence. Lavoisier and the Chemistry of Life: An Exploration of Scientific Creativity. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

——. Antoine Lavoisier, the Next Crucial Year, or the Sources of

His Quantitative Method in Chemistry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Holmes, Frederic L., and Trevor H. Levere, eds. Instruments and Experimentation in the History of Chemistry. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

Kim, Mi Gyung. “Public Science: Hydrogen, Balloons, and Lavoisier’s Decomposition of Water.” Annals of Science 63 (2006): 291–318.

Palmer, Louise Yvonne. “The Early Scientific Work of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier: In the Field and in the Laboratory, 1763–1767.” PhD diss., Yale University, 1998.

Pelucchi, Stéphane. “Histoires parallèles: Histoire de la collection de minéralogie d’Antoine Laurent Lavoisier.” Nuncius: Journal of the History of Science 18 (2003): 705–732.

Perrin, Carlton E. “Lavoisier’s Thoughts on Calcination and Combustion, 1772–73.” Isis 77 (1986): 647–666.

——. “Document, Text, and Myth: Lavoisier’s Crucial Year Revisited.” British Journal for the History of Science 22 (1989): 3–25.

Poirier, Jean-Pierre. Lavoisier: Chemist, Biologist, Economist. Translated by Rebecca Balinski. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

——. “De la Ferme générale et la Caisse d’escompte à la

Tresorerie nationale: Lavoisier, financier de l’Ancien Régime et grand commis de l’Etat moderne.” In Lavoisier: Correspondance. Vol. 6. Edited by Maurice Bret. Paris: Académie des sciences, 1997.

——, ed. De la situation du Trésor public au 1er juin 1791. Paris: Editions du C.T.H.S., 1997.

Prinz, Johann Peter. Die experimentelle Methode der ersten Gasstoffwechseluntersuchungen am ruhenden und quantifiziert belasteten Menschen (A. L. Lavoisier und A. Séguin 1790): Versuch einer kritischen Deutung. Sankt Augustin, Germany: Academia Verlag, 1992.

Rappaport, Rhoda. “Lavoisier’s Theory of the Earth.” British Journal for the History of Science 6 (1972–1973): 247–260.

Roberts, Lissa. “A Word and the World: The Significance of Naming the Calorimeter.” Isis 82 (1991): 198–222.

Smeaton, William A. “Madame Lavoisier, P. S. and E. I. Du Pont de Nemours and the Publication of Lavoisier’s ‘Mémoires de chimie.’” Ambix 36 (1989): 22–30.

Marco Beretta

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Lavoisier, Antoine-Laurent

Lavoisier, Antoine‐Laurent (1743–94) French chemist, performed the first studies of heat output, consumption of oxygen (which he named), and production of carbon dioxide, creating the basis of calorimetry.

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