The Cycle of Life:
An History of Experimental Ecology

Sterling Memorial
Kline Sciences
Medical Historical
Exhibit Map

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Collected Works, Volume 2., 1862

In the late 18th century, Lavoisier drew on the work of Stephen Hales in the ‘Statics of Plants’ and contemporary chemists such as Berthollet to develop a novel view that he called the Carbon Cycle. Applying the most sophisticated chemical analyses to date, Lavoisier observed that carbon cycled through nature by first attacking the oxygen contained in the plant’s water and forming carbon dioxide; at the same time, a portion of the corresponding hydrogen which is set free, combines easily with the carbon to form “oil”; finally, in the matter of animals it combines with nitrogen to form ammonia.” In Nature two opposing operations are at work: decomposition caused by oxygen and by vegetation. For Lavoisier, life was central to moving Nature’s elements from one chemical state to another.

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Lloyd Ackert
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