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Alchemy. CHEM 210 History of Chemistry. Dr. V. Vilchiz Spring 2014. What is Alchemy?. Not a Science A philosophical Doctrine that is traced back 2500yrs Fluorished from ~1200-1800 Still going?…Marlus von Franz Narrow Objectives but Broader than Chemistry? Purification Transmutation

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CHEM 210

History of Chemistry

Dr. V. Vilchiz

Spring 2014

What is Alchemy?

  • Not a Science

    • A philosophical Doctrine that is traced back 2500yrs

      • Fluorished from ~1200-1800

      • Still going?…Marlus von Franz

  • Narrow Objectives but Broader than Chemistry?

    • Purification

    • Transmutation

      • Development of Separation Techniques

      • Discovery of Chemical & Biological Processes

  • Precursor of Chemistry?

The Philosopher’s Stone

  • Philospher’s Stone

    • Golden Grail

    • Material needed for transmutation

  • Elixir of Life

    • Liquid substance that can purify the soul

  • White & Red Great Elixirs

    • Alchemical substances that can imbue the soul with good or evil.

China -wai tan Alchemy

  • As early as 400BC

    • Lao Tzu Taoism Teachings

      • Universe and Opposites (Yin & Yang)

        • Metal, wood, Fire, Water & earth

  • Centered in Elixirs of Perfection and Immortality

  • You need Yang?

    • Red-blooded cinnabar Elixir (HgS)

  • By-Products

    • Gun Powder, fireworks, Fermentation, Distillation

China –nai tan Alchemy

Also longevity and immortality but from within





Decrease in Lab Experiments

Body Fluid experiments

Hormone Medicines

Alchemy B4 Greece

  • Basic Metals

    • Au, Ag, Fe, Hg, Sn, Cu, Pb

  • Gastronomy

    • The first science?

      • Pottery

      • Paints

      • Perfumes

      • Metal art

Days of the Week









Add rationality & logic

Order, classify and explain metal technology

Elementary Substances (Aristotle)











Hermeticism & Gnosticism

Single God & Dualism (opposites)

Hermes Trismegistus

Alchemy, Astrology & Theurgy

By-Product of

Medicine & Pharmacology


Earliest known Alchemy Encyclopedia


  • Junction of Indian, Chinese, Greek ideas

  • Birthplace of the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life

  • Birthplace of Geber & Rhazes

  • Metals held together by spirit & soul (Hg & S)

  • Alchemy was seen as theologically suspect

    • Gave “mortals” the power to create.


  • Jãbir ibn Hayyãn

    • Prolific “Writer”

      • Summa Perfectionis

        • “the most influential” work on Alchemy

      • Astrology

      • Numerology

      • Medicine

      • Mysticism


Muhammad ibn Zakarīya al-Rāzi,

Writer of Secret of Secrets

Compilation of “chemical” practices and glassware descriptions.

First to categorizes substances into families

Metals, vitriols, boraxes, salts, stones

One of the first to write lab procedures

Purification, separation, condensation, solidification, calcination

Allow the preparation of pure H2SO4, HCl, & HNO3

Bernard Trevisan

  • Alchemist at the age of 14 (rich)

  • Follower of Geber & Rhazes at early age

  • Search for the Philosopher’s Stone

    • Hen Eggs + Horse Manure

    • Human Blood + Urine

  • Follower of Sacrobosco and Rupescissa

    • 30 times distilled wine (aqua vitae)

    • Sea Salt

    • Silver & Mercury in aqua fortis (HNO3)

Johannes of Rupescissa

  • Supposedly

    • distilled the Aqua Vitae (Vital Water)

      • the Quinta Essentia

      • Panacea


  • Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast Paracelsus von Hohenheim

    • Self proclaimed “better than 2nd century medical writer Celsus”

    • Dismissed from his post as Medical Office of Health

      • Lecture in German and not Latin

      • Publicly Burned “seminal” works of Galen & Avicenna

        • Something repeated 250 years later by Lavoisier

    • He was the people’s Hermes

      • Establishment did not accept many of his writtings


  • Extended the meaning of the Alchemy concept beyond transmutation…

    • Alchemy is “…carrying to its end a process that is yet not completed”

      • Digestions

      • Cooking

      • Chemical Processes

    • Leads to the publication of the 1st Chemistry Book

      • Alchemia by Andreas Libavius in 1597


  • Chemistry is the key to unraveling the secrets of the universe.

  • Alchemical Art was considered a personal religious avocation (hobby).

  • Fervent advocate of non-herbal medicines

Joan-Baptista Van Helmont

  • Alchemist & Iatrochemist Disciple of Paracelsus

    • Father of Gaseous Chemistry

    • Sentenced to house arrest

      • Treat the weapon not the wound + church = heretic

  • Influential Posthumous Writings

    • Robert Boyle

    • Sir Isaac Newton

  • Denied Fire and Earth as basic elements

    • Air=ferments… reaction were water + ferments (trees)

Sir Isaac Newton

  • Alchemy beliefs and interests

    • Debate of their influence in his Math/Physics work

    • Believed in a “secret food of life” (Sendivogius)

      • Without air animals and plants die

        • Combustion & respiration studies

    • Believer of Corpuscularism

      • Similar to Atomism

Female Alchemists

4 that knew the Philosopher’s Stone recipe.

Mary the Jewess


Cleopatra the Alchemist


Alchemy  Chemistry?

“To the extent that it undoubtedly stimulated empirical research, Alchemy can be said to have made a positive contribution to the development of chemistry and the justification of applying scientific knowledge to the relief of humankind’s estate. This is different, however, from saying that alchemy led to chemistry.”


  • Antoine Lavoisier

    • Father of Modern Chemistry

      • Metric System

      • List of Elements

      • Chemical Nomenclature

    • Study of matter and its changes

  • Why can’t we transmute lead into gold?

  • Is transmutation truly impossible?

  • Early Chemists embarrassed of Alchemy

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