The True Elements (1765-1774)

Timeline of Elements with The True Elements time period highlighted.The four elements of the ancients – fire, water, earth, and air – were entrenched into chemical thought up through the 18th century. It took a true genius – Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794) – to develop the first quantitative chemical tests to challenge this working theory. When he reacted “flammable air” with “vital air,” the chemical product he obtained was water. He concluded water was a compound, and he renamed flammable air “hydrogen” (Greek: “water former”) and vital air “oxygen” (Greek “acid former”). With this working premise, he concluded that the true elements (which he called “simple substances”) were 31 known materials, including not only hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, but also several nonmetal solids such as carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, and chlorine, and several metals, such as gold, iron, and copper.

Read more about the "The True Elements" in the Chem 13 News article by James Marshall.


1765-1774: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen

Hydrogen, 1

Coloured pencil on black paper. The sun towers over a flask with hydrogen gas bubbling up, the element symbol H and the years 1671 and 1766.Exploits Valley Intermediate
Grand Falls – Windsor, Newfoundland, Canada
Teacher: Krista Simms
Artists: Devyn Hogg, Maya Fifield, Emily Hayden, Claire Loder, Cora Hogg

We decided to base our design on the Sun since about 70% of the gas on the Sun is hydrogen.  We used different colors and textures to create a realistic style sun.  Our research found that in 1671, Robert Boyle discovered that the reaction between iron filings and dilute acids resulted in the production of hydrogen gas.  In 1766, however Henry Cavendish collected the bubbles therefore giving him the credit of the discovery.  We incorporated a flask with bubbles into our design to give credit to these scientists and displayed the important dates as well.

Oxygen, 8

Watercolor. One of the first experiments used to isolate oxygen. Sunlight heats a vial containing mercury (III) oxide which produces oxygen gas illustrated by tiny atomic Bohr models in flames. Mouse runs on an exercise wheel in the background.Preston High School
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
Teacher: Kevin Donkers
Artist: Ella Woolcott (created for Science Teachers' Association of Ontario (STAO))

The isolation of oxygen first happened in the 1770s in various experiments, including some by Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Joseph Priestley.  Both scientists applied thermal energy (including sunlight) to vials of mercury(II) oxide which produced a gas that was flammable and would increase the vitality of mice.

Nitrogen, 7

 soil, DNA, and the auroras; right, a man thinking “I can’t breath” carrying containers labelled “dry ice - since 1895” and “N gas”. Surrounding illustrations of the words “Nitrogen”, 7, “Azote” spelled in skull and bones,” and 1772.East Three Secondary School
Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada
Teacher: Denise Lipscombe
Artists: Fletcher Dares, Chloe Dalton, Corbin Dempster, Hannah Gordon-Rogers

This artwork was designed and created by the Grade 9 French Immersion students at East Three Secondary School in Inuvik, NWT, Canada. The students researched the history and discovery of nitrogen as an element as well as some key inventions which use nitrogen, such as fertilizers and explosives. They also included places where nitrogen is found in nature, such as soil, DNA and the auroras. The artwork shows Daniel Rutherford, who discovered nitrogen in 1772 and the word azote meaning “no life” was one of the first proposed names for nitrogen.

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