Spokane native Studies Long Neglected Wife of
Father of Modern Chemistry
Ashley Horton, a Johns Hopkins University senior from Spokane, Wa., has conducted original research on the life and political influence of Marie-Anne Lavoisier, the little-known wife of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry. As part of the Hopkins Provost Undergraduate Research Award program, Horton spent months last year delving into her topic.
Marie-Anne Lavoisier has gone down in history as her husband's wife. But senior Ashley Horton believes Marie-Anne may be important beyond her relation to him. Horton, who is majoring in public health studies, used her PURA to piece together a portrait of Marie-Anne Lavoisier apart from her husband.
Lawrence Principe, Horton's sponsor and a professor in the Krieger School's Department of History of Science and Technology, said of Lavoisier, "She's not just an attachment to her husband. She is a fascinating individual in her own right, and that is what Ashley is trying to bring out."
Horton learned that Marie-Anne was not only key to Antoine-Laurent's work but was also a societal and political figure in 18th-century France. "I'm interested in the role she played in Lavoisier's work and to what extent she was important in his relations with English science," said Horton. "He spoke [English] very poorly, and read it very poorly, so any important treatises she translated into French."
In its 11-year existence, the Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards program has given 483 students grants approaching $1 million to follow their curiosity, thanks to funding primarily from the Hodson Trust. This year's winning students presented their findings in a ceremony on Thursday, March 11 on the Hopkins campus.
With Hodson support, the university is able to offer its undergraduates two opportunities each year to apply for stipends to conduct independent research during the summer or fall. It's a commitment that the university feels is central to its mission, said Steven Knapp, university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
"Since its beginnings, Johns Hopkins has always emphasized the value of learning through discovery, and this program is an important opportunity for undergraduates to work in this tradition with our best and most creative faculty at the forefront of their fields," Knapp said.
During her research, Horton found that Marie-Anne Lavoisier also helped smuggle research to her husband during his imprisonment in Revolutionary France and, after his execution, led a public and political attack against the government when it confiscated her property.
But since she has always been a historical shadow, Horton had to learn archival tricks and search widely for information, visiting museums and archives from Wilmington, Del., to Paris. "It's always a problem when you're searching for someone in the shadows," she said.
Horton, who plans to go into laboratory research when she graduates, became interested in Marie-Anne Lavoisier when she took a class called Lives in Science taught by Daniel Todes.
Her PURA research, she said, has allowed her to move away from her background in lab research and molecular biology. "It's given me a more well-rounded education," she said. "I've taken a lot of chemistry, and it is really nice to see the humanities side of it."
She also has learned the technological advantages enjoyed by modern researchers and scientists. "Learning more about the history of science has given me a real appreciation of where science is now and the whole progression of it," she said.
Horton plans eventually to write a short biography about Marie-Anne Lavoisier. "I think it would be a bestseller," Principe said.
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