The Most Important Discovery of Science

  • John W. SeveringhausEmail author
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 876)


Oxygen has often been called the most important discovery of science. I disagree. Over five centuries, reports by six scientists told of something in air we animals all need. Three reported how to generate it. It acquired many names, finally oxygen. After 8 years of studying it, Lavoisier still couldn’t understand its nature. No special date and no scientist should get credit for discovering oxygen. Henry Cavendish discovered how to make inflammable air (H2). When burned, it made water. This was called impossible because water was assumed to be an element. When Lavoisier repeated the Cavendish test on June 24, 1783, he realized it demolished two theories, phlogiston and water as an element, a Kuhnian paradigm shift that finally unlocked his great revolution of chemistry.


Plagiarism Cavendish, Henry Sendivogius, Michael Discoveries of oxygen Scheele, Carl Wilhelm 


  1. 1.
    West JR (2008) Ibn al-Nafis, the pulmonary circulation and the islamic golden age. J Appl Physiol 105:1877–1880CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bainton RH (1953) Hunted heretic: the life and death of Michael Servetus, 1511–1553. Beacon, BostonGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    O’Malley CD (1953) Michael Servetus. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, pp 195–208Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Fulton JF (1953) Michael Servetus, humanist and martyr. Herbert Reichner, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bugnaj R (1968) Michael Sendivogius (1566–1636) his life and works, 126. Ossolineum, London/WarsawGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Szydlo A (1994) Water that does not wet hands: the Alchemy of Michael Sendivogius. Polish Academy of Science, WarsawGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Proctor DF (ed) (1995) A history of breathing physiology, vol 83, Lung biology in health and disease. Marcel Dekker, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Scheele CW (1777) Chemical treatise on air and fire. Magnus Swederus, UppsalaGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Grimaux E (1890) Une Iettre inedite de Scheele a Lavoisier. Revue générale des sciences pures et appliquées 1:1–2Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Priestley J (1775) An account of further discoveries in air. Phil Trans R Soc Lond 65:384–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Guerlac H (1975) Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cavendish H (1766) Experiments on factitious air. Part I. Containing experiments on inflammable air. Phil Trans R Soc Lond 56:144–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Kuhn TS (1962) The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Lavoisier A (1789) Traité élémentaire de chimie. Chez Cuchet, ParisGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Schofield RE (2004) The enlightened Joseph Priestley: a study of his life and work from 1773 to 1804. University Park, Penn State University Press, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anaesthesiology and Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations