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Hand sketch engraving made by madamme Lavoisier in the 18th century featured in "Traité élémentaire de chimie" retrieved from


Lavoisier performed his classic twelve-day experiment in 1779 which has become famous in history.

First, Lavoisier heated pure mercury in a swan-necked retort over a charcoal furnace for twelve days. A red oxide of mercury was formed on the surface of the mercury in the retort. When no more red powder was formed, Lavoisier noticed that about one-fifth of the air had been used up and that the remaining gas did not support life or burning. Lavoisier called this latter gas azote. (Greek 'a' and ' zoe' = without life).

He removed the red oxide of mercury carefully and heated it in a similar retort. He obtained exactly the same volume of gas as disappeared in the last experiment. He found that the gas caused flames to burn brilliantly, and small animals were active in it as Joseph Priestley had noticed in his experiment.

Finally, on mixing the two types of gas, i.e. the gas left in the first experiment, and that given out in the second experiment, he got a mixture similar to air in all respects.

In his experiments Lavoisier analysed air into two constituents: the one which supports life and combustion, and is one-fifth by volume of air he called oxygen (Greek, oxus=acid, gen=beget), the other four-fifths which does not he called azote.

This latter gas is now called nitrogen. From the two gases he synthesised something that has the characteristics of air.


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File history

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Date/Time Dimensions User Comment
current 08:58, 16 March 2008 387×261 (21 KB) HappyApple (*Hand sketch engraving made by madamme Lavoisier in the 18th century featured in ''"Traité élémentaire de chimie"'' retrieved from
03:08, 13 April 2007 169×120 (10 KB) Moez (==Summary== Apparatus from Lavoisier's hand sketch design made by Meusnier in 1783. *Courtesy of Manuel Pulido Bosch and Francisco Romero Hinojosa. * Source : [] ==Licensing== {{PD-release}} )
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