Science experiments: air

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By John Davisteacher and freelance writer

Conduct a simple science experiment using a candle and water to show that a fifth of the air we breathe is oxygen.


The French scientist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794) discovered that air was largely made up of oxygen (21%) and another gas that he called ‘azote’ (78%), from the Greek word for ‘no life’. According to Lavoisier, oxygen was essential for breathing and burning while it also contributed to other conditions like rusting.

Later, the gas Lavoisier had called ‘azote’ was named nitrogen and other chemists went on to establish that air also consisted of more gases like carbon dioxide, water vapour and traces of argon, neon, krypton, xenon, radon and helium. Another of Lavoisier’s greatest discoveries was the fact that water was a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.

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