Who is Who in Terminology: Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1746-1794)

lavoisierAntoine-Laurent Lavoisier was a “prominent French chemist and leading figure in the 18th-century chemical revolution who developed an experimentally based theory of the chemical reactivity of oxygen and coauthored the modern system for naming chemical substances.”1/

Lavoisier was the coauthor of the Méthode de nomenclature chimique, along with three equally prominent French chemists: Claude Louis Berthollet, Antoine Fourcroy, and Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau. When referring to the key role that subject-matter experts played in the development of Terminology, Maria T. Cabré mentions both Lavoisier and Berthollet in the field of chemistry. 2/

For this biography, I decided to pick Lavoisier as he is considered the founder of the modern science of chemistry and the Wikipedia on chemistry calls him “the chemical analogue of Newton in physics.” Berthollet, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, was one of the leading French chemists, but “second only to Lavoisier”. Also, Lavoisier’s work and his “new chemistry” was the groundwork for the nomenclature. However, I linked the chemists’ names to their online biographies if you are interested in reading more about them.

By the middle of 1786, all four chemists worked side by side every day during eight months writing the Méthode de nomenclature chimique, published a year later (1787). A great abstract on the nomenclature that can give you an idea of the type of work they did may be found online at the University of Illinois Rare Book Room Exhibit, which reads as follows:Nomenclature chimie

Before this work, the same substance might have as many as 12 different names, mostly having no relation to the thing. The main object of the Nomenclature was to present a systematic view of Lavoisier’s new system of chemistry and to propose a more rational system of naming chemical compounds. The older nomenclature was characterized by names such as powder of algaroth, oil of tartar, salt of alembroth, pompholix, and many others, which often bore little or no relation to the substance’s chemical constitution. In contrast, the Nomenclature introduced names such as hydrogen, oxygen, sodium chloride, and ferric sulfate, which are still in use today.”

Sadly, Lavoisier’s death was tragic. He served as a leading financier and public administrator before the French Revolution, and along with 27 of his former colleagues, was guillotined on trial day, May 8, 1794.1/, 3/

Sources and further reading:

1/ Encyclopedia Britannica. Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier [consulted on 21 January 2015].

2/ Cabré, M. Teresa. La Terminología: Teoría, metodología y aplicaciones. Primera edición, diciembre de 1993.

3/ Encyclopedia.com. Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier [consulted on 20 January 2015].

Lavoisier image source

Méthode de Nomenclature Chimique image source

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