The Chemical Concepts of Lavoisier 

Introductory University Chemistry I

University Chemistry: An Introduction

The Chemical Concepts of Lavoisier

The end of the eighteenth century was marked by the publication of Antoine
Lavoisier's textbook Elements of Chemistry; this 1787 book is the first
description of chemistry that a modern chemist would find recognizable.
Lavoisier, following Boyle, accepted the definition of an element as any
substance which cannot be broken down into simpler substances. His list of
elements included many of the common metallic and nonmetallic elements known
today. It also included light and heat, which we would not now classify as
elements, as well as the oxides of the alkali metals and of the alkaline
earths. These oxides could not be decomposed to their respective metals
prior to the electrolytic experiments of Humphrey Davy.

The description of pure compounds formed from the different elements
occupied much of Lavoisier's text. These descriptions were qualitative,
except for the quantitative composition of the compounds by mass and the
measurements of the heat properties of the compounds and the elements. The
formation of oxides, and the existence of oxygen in air, was accepted by
Lavoisier, and in his book it was presented for the first time in a
systematic way. Not all of Lavoisier's ideas were correct; for example, he
argued that all acids contain oxygen. While many acids do contain oxygen,
some do not, and as a result Lavoisier's names for compounds do not exactly
match their actual structure. Nevertheless, chemists continue to use them,
as we shall see in a later section.

This section is still incomplete and under construction.

Copyright 1995 James A. Plambeck ( Updated
September 28, 1995 jp.