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Contributions to biology

Lavoisier used a calorimeter to measure heat production as a result of respiration in a guinea pig. The outer shell of the calorimeter was packed with snow, which melted to maintain a constant temperature of 0 °C around an inner shell filled with ice. The guinea pig in the center of the chamber produced heat which melted the ice. The water which flowed out of the calorimeter was collected and weighed. One kilogram of melted ice = 80 kcal heat production by the guinea pig. He concluded, "la respiration est donc une combustion." That is, respiratory gas exchange is a combustion, like that of a candle burning.

Law and politics

Lavoisier also studied law. He received a law degree and was admitted to the bar, but never practiced as a lawyer. He did become interested in French politics, and as a result, he obtained a position as tax collector in the Ferme Générale, a tax farming company, at the age of 26, where he attempted to introduce reforms in the French monetary and taxation system in order to help the peasants. While in government work, he helped develop the metric system to secure uniformity of weights and measures throughout France.


As one of 28 French tax collectors and a powerful figure in the unpopular Ferme Générale, Lavoisier was branded a traitor during the Reign of Terror by revolutionists in 1794. He was tried, convicted, and executed on the same day in Paris, at the age of 51. An appeal to spare his life was cut short by the judge: "The Republic has no need of geniuses [scientists]."

Ironically, Lavoisier was one of the few liberals in his position. One of his actions that may have sealed his fate was a contretemps a few years earlier with the young Jean-Paul Marat, who subsequently became a leading revolutionary.

His importance for science was expressed by the mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange who lamented the beheading by saying: "It took them only an instant to cut off that head, but France may not produce another like it in a century."

One and a half years following his death, Lavoisier was exonerated by the French government. When his private belongings were delivered to his widow, a brief note was included, stating: "To the widow of Lavoisier, who was falsely convicted."

About a century after his death, a statue of Lavoisier was erected in Paris. It was later discovered that the sculptor had not actually copied Lavoisier's head for the statue, but used a spare head of the Marquis de Condorcet, the secretary of the Academy of Sciences during Lavoisier's last years. Lack of money prevented alterations being made. The statue was melted down during the Second World War and has never been replaced. However, there is a street in the eighth arrondissement of Paris named after him.


  1. Charles C. Gillespie, Foreword to Lavoisier: Chemist, Economist, Biologist by Jean-Pierre Poirier (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996,
  2. Andrea C. Buchholz and Dale A. Schoeller, “Is a Calorie a Calorie?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 79(5) (May 2004): 899S-906S. Retrieved September 18, 2007.


  • Aykroyd, W. R. [1935] 1970. Three Philosophers (Lavoisier, Priestley and Cavendish). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Donovan, Arthur. 1993. Antoine Lavoisier: Science, Administration, and Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fleisher, Paul. 1987. “The Law of Conservation of Matter.” Chap. 9 in Secrets of the Universe, Discovering the Universal Laws of Science. New York: Atheneum, Macmillan Publishing.
  • Lavoisier, Antoine. 1965. Elements of Chemistry. New York: Dover Publications.
  • Poirier, Jean-Pierre. 1998. Lavoisier. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 

External links

All links retrieved September 18, 2007.


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