What Is the World Made Of?


Who really discovered oxygen?

Three scientists are often credited with the discovery of oxygen: Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, and Joseph Priestley. The Swedish scientist Scheele discovered what he called “fire air” in 1772. The name came from the way an ember would burst into flame when immersed in the gas. Scheele wrote a book describing his work, but it took four years to be published. In the meantime, Priestley in 1774 discovered what he called “dephlogisticated air.” Lavoisier, who met Priestley in 1774 and was told about Priestley’s discovery, claimed to have discovered what he called “vital air.” Although he was sent letters from both Scheele and Priestley describing their earlier work, he never acknowledged their receipt. Lavoisier’s great contribution was to make precise studies of the role of oxygen in a variety of reactions and to give it the name oxygen.


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