Early Chemistry and Gases

The Chemical Revolution of the late 18th century was based in large part on Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier's new understanding of the chemical role of a gas—oxygen—in explaining combustion, respiration, and metallurgical processes like smelting. This advance in the theory of material change drew upon earlier work by other chemists, such as Joseph Priestley, who demonstrated that the air we breathe, previously thought to be uniform and not a kind of matter like solids or liquids, is in fact made up of several gases with different properties. Lavoisier’s successors further explored the character of gases. Their theoretical advances eventually proved of great importance to modern society: many industrial processes require gases and their compounds and rely on a thorough understanding of the reactions that produce them.

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The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

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