Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier the invisible assistant

A framed portrait of Marie Anne Paulze Lavoisier

Source: Photograph © Heritage Art/Getty Images; Frame © Swindler & Swindler @ Folio Art

Could her famous husband have played such a key role in ‘the new chemistry’ without her? Hayley Bennett investigates

In the 1780s, French noblewoman Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier became embroiled in a scientific dispute that would reshape chemistry for ever. Most chemists believe that anything combustible contained the a fiery substance called phlogiston, which was released during burning, leaving just ‘calx’, a kind of ash. But not her husband.

Antoine Lavoisier was a chemist who opposed the phlogiston theory and other remnants of science that were more akin to alchemy than chemistry. He was a creator of what was called ‘the new chemistry’, based on key principles such as elements and compounds.

While it’s unclear whether Marie-Anne had any input in developing ‘the new chemistry’ or its naming system, as it was credited to her husband and three other (male) chemists, she was certainly instrumental in bringing down the theory of phlogiston.