Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.1

– Dr Samuel Johnson.

The foundation of modern chemistry was laid following the chemical revolution brought on by the research of French chemist Antoine Lavoisier in the 1770s. He propounded the oxygen theory of combustion, and defined an element as ‘the last point which analysis is capable of reaching’.2 His work with Guyton de Morveau and Antoine Fourcroy developing a chemical nomenclature, published as Méthode de nomenclature chimique in 1787, and the new system of chemistry as set out in his book Traité elémentaire de chemie (1789) underpins much of our chemical understanding today. Nevertheless, there remained a good deal of tension between the old and new systems. It was only the elegant experimental work carried out by Joseph Black, Henry Cavendish and Joseph Priestley that finally led to the general acceptance of Lavoisier’s new system. John Dalton’s atomic theory (1803) and Jacob Berzelius’s table of atomic weights (by 1830) were important stages towards our modern understanding. The atomic weights allowed the stoichiometry of a reaction (the relative weights of the constituents in the reaction) to be predicted and how much of a chemical product might be produced.