van Helmont and his tree and his conclusion that the weight of the plants came from water. Ms. M. would pause. "Was van Helmont wrong?", she would ask the students. She expected them to have difficulty conceiving that van Helmont had conducted an experiment, which they knew was essential to science, but that he had not obtained the answer they knew was correct. Ms. M. would help them analyze the experiment and the conclusions that could legitimately be drawn from it. She would then introduce more of the context of van Helmont's investigation: the prevailing belief about plants as a combination of fire and earth and how van Helmont's study was designed to refute this belief. She would comment that many researchers chose to repeat the tree study, and then she would allow students to discuss how (or whether) van Helmont's study had contributed to the science of photosynthesis.
She would then continue her historical lecture using similar details from several other episodes. She would describe how chemists had learned to collect gases from chemical reactions, how Priestley used these new techniques, and how he then observed the effect that gases from plants produced on burning candles. She would note that Priestley did not know about oxygen, but viewed it as a purer form of air. She would mention how Ingenhousz expanded Priestley's finding by showing that the air was changed only when the plants were kept in sunlight, and how de Saussure confirmed that carbon dioxide was a gas needed for the same effect. She would detail how James Hutton had been involved in industrial debates about the quality of coal and was interested in why coal burned. He had interpreted plant imprints in coal as a clue that something from the sun was being stored in