From Alchemy to Chemistry


Tracing its origins back to ancient Egypt, alchemy was a dark—often forbidden—art whose practitioners wrote cryptic, encoded, symbolic, and often secretive texts. Driven by the desire to turn base metals into gold and to discover the Philosopher’s Stone and, with it, the secret of immortality, alchemists studied the transmutation of physical substances. Despite its unsavory reputation, alchemy was practiced by some of the most extraordinary individuals in the history of humanity’s intellectual development: Jabir ibn-Hayyan, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, and Robert Boyle. Indeed, Isaac Newton—widely regarded as the father of modern science—wrote more alchemical manuscripts than on any other subject. In this course, we will investigate the essence of alchemy and its turbulent history. The course will then explore the legacy of alchemy: how the work of the alchemists enabled the scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries to transform alchemical lore into the modern science of chemistry.