In 1765, the French government asked a 22-year-old lawyer to make a study of the best way to light the streets of Paris at night.
The young man made a close study of fuels and combustion, or burning. He found the best type of oil to burn for the streetlamps, the best time to light the lamps, ways to reuse the oil, and ways to keep the oil from freezing in the winter.
His study won him a gold medal from the French Academy of Sciences, but more importantly, it turned a lawyer into a scientist.
The scientist would become the father of modern chemistry.
Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier was born in Paris in 1743 to aristocratic parents. His father was a wealthy lawyer and expected his son to follow in his footsteps.
Lavoisier received his law degree and was admitted to practice, but even during college he was more interested in science. He took many chemistry courses and even met the great Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus.
His study of lighting and combustion for the government convinced him his future was as a chemist, not a lawyer.
However, he still needed a job to support himself while he conducted his scientific research. He used the aristocratic contacts of his family and became fermier general, the chief tax collector for the monarchy of France.
It was a decision that would eventually lead to one of the most horrible ends of any of the great scientists.
Lavoisier was put in charge of a French government agency controlling the production of gunpowder.
He increased production so much that France was able to supply the American colonies with much of the ammunition needed to defeat the British in the American Revolution.
French scientist Antoine Lavoisier used these instruments to carefully check changes in weight during chemical experiments.