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Antoine Lavoisier (1743-94)

Born into a wealthy French family, Antoine Lavoisier is considered to be the founder of modern chemistry. He and his wife Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze collaborated on numerous scientific projects.

Lavoisier was a polymath, inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment. His studies included philosophy and law and he invented many new instruments and very accurate quantitative methods to analyse the elements contained in chemical compounds. These inventions led him to identify the element oxygen. He also developed a new method of chemical nomenclature: a way of naming chemical substances which, with modifications, is still in use today.

His experimental methods of chemical analysis were crucial for finding and isolating many medically active substances in the late 1700s from morphine to quinine.

Lavoisier’s work as a tax collector for the king led to him being executed by the French revolutionaries on the guillotine. After Lavoisier’s execution, his wife continued to fight for recognition of his ideas, bringing together and publishing his final work.


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A painkilling drug derived from opium. Morphine is used in hospitals around the world due to its relative lack of side effects.