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The Alchemist's Equipment

Alchemists left behind an incredible record of achievement. They are credited with the discovery of five elements -- antimony, arsenic, bismuth, phosphorus, and zinc -- as well as alcohol and many of the acids and alkalies found in today's laboratories. They perfected such basic chemical procedures as distillation, crystallization, and the smelting and alloying of metals.

Although alchemy never achieved its ambition of changing one element into another, modern nuclear physisicts found a dramatic version of the elusive Philosopher's Stone in the neutrons that started the chain reaction which set off the first atomic bomb and transmuted uranium into some three dozen different chemical elements.

But modern chemistry's greatest debt to alchemy is the idea and reality of the laboratory itself -- with its experimental approach and its ingenious tools that were able to take matter apart and put it back together again. Some of those tools are still in use today, albeit in a more modern and more refined form.

Some 17th and 18th Century alchemical equipment is shown below: 1 aludel, for condensing vapors; 2 "Moor's Head" still; 3 clay vessel; 4 alembic, for distilling; 5 retort; 6 bronze mortar; 7 crucible.

basic tools for transmutation

Ralph E. Lapp Life Science Library: Matter New York: Time Incorporated, 1965


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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Chemistry >> Alchemy

This page was last updated on 10/28/2017.