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Respiration and combustion.

Lavoisier, having worked out his theory of combustion as the combination of fuels with oxygen from the air (see 1772), thought of respiration. Animals ate food that contained carbon. They breathed air that contained oxygen and exhaled air that contained less oxygen and more carbon dioxide.

In collaboration with a French scientist, Pierre-Simon de Laplace (1749-1827), Lavoisier undertook a series of experiments designed to measure the amount of heat and carbon dioxide produced by a guinea pig. It turned out that the amount of heat was about what would be expected from the production of that much carbon dioxide, and Lavoisier concluded that respiration was a form of combustion.

The essential point was that the laws that governed combustion outside the body seemed to hold inside the body as well. This was another blow against vitalism, the system of thought that gave life special status.

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Author:Asimov, Isaac
Publication:Asimov's Chronology of Science & Discovery, Updated ed.
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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