August 9


Phlogiston Combustion Theory, Joseph Priestly & Antoine Lavoisier.

“Through science, humans seek to improve their understanding and explanations of the natural world. Science involves the construction of explanations based on evidence and science knowledge can be changed as new evidence becomes available.”

 Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), accessed 16/07/2013

What is Phlogiston Theory? Take a look at the two websites below, which give a fairly simple explanation.

 A brief explanation of Phlogiston Theory

 Phlogiston Theory

 priestlycJoseph Priestley, National Portrait Gallery (Washington), used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.


Joseph Priestley was a religious minister, philosopher and chemist. He invented soda water, wrote about electricity, and discovered several gases. He had strong political views, and spoke openly in support of the French Revolution. 

Read about Priestley’s support of the Phlogiston Theory of Combustion and how he discovered oxygen while researching combustion:

Priestley and Phlogiston

Phlogiston Theory and Chemical Revolutions  (An in depth article which deals with Priestley’s research on the first page.)

So, how did Priestley’s work compare with that of Lavoisier?

American Scientist: A tale of Two Chemists (Priestley vs Lavoisier)   (Although this is a book review, it gives a useful outline of some differences between Priestley’s and Lavoisier’s theories.)

276px-Jacques-Louis_David_-_Portrait_of_Antoine-Laurent_and_Marie-Anne_Lavoisier_(detail)_-_WGA06060Jacques-Louis David – Portrait of Antoine-Laurent and Marie-Anne Lavoisier (detail) – WGA06060.jpg(1788) Metropolitan Museum of Art, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.


Lavoisier was a wealthy man who had a law degree but dreamed of following a career in mathematics and science. When aged 28, Lavoisier married 13-year-old Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze, who willingly joined him in his work. She learned English to translate the works of Priestley and others for her husband. Despite Lavoisier’s contributions to science, he was guillotined in 1794 during the French Revolution, aged 51.

  “A moment was all that was necessary in which to strike off this head, and probably a hundred years will not be sufficient to produce another like it.”

…a quote from his friend Lagrange to Delambre, Famous Chemists, Sir William Tildon, London, 1921.

So, what was Lavoisier’s view of combustion? Read about it in these sources:

Chemistry Explained


How Stuff Works

National Historic Chemistry landmarks, Combustion and the attack on phlogiston

Creighton University (Bruce Mattson’s page)

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

Eric Weisstein’s World of Biography

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