Nothing is lost, nothing is created, all is transformed: Antoine Lavoisier, a French chemist, is known for this famous phrase. By studying combustion, he identified and termed oxygen, countered the “phlogiston theory”, and formulated the law of conservation of mass. He is also known for his tragic end: he was executed in 1794 by order of a revolutionary court, charged with squandering of public finance, undue collection of taxes, misappropriation, and fraud, which he allegedly committed as a close collaborator of his father in law, the general tax collector in Paris.
The film tells his story, between scientific activities (carried out with his wife) and historical circumstances, and offers a possible explanation of the sentence to the guillotine. The assumption, referred to in the title of the film, is that the sentence was indeed a result of the poor endurance of his complex figure. A revolutionist for the scientific community, he was rather seen as a conservative with respect to the organization of science and to the Academy of scientists.
An assumption on the scientist’s sentence is part of a series of five TV-films with the title Men of Science, curated by mathematician Lucio Lombardo Radice, aimed at showing the merger between science history and history in general to the wide audience. Because those that work in science are often also outstanding figures in their time in the relation between science and society, between politics and culture.