WASHINGTON — The pursuit that obsessed some of the world's greatest geniuses for centuries — alchemy and its quest for the “Philosopher’s Stone” that would transform lead and other base metals into gold — is the topic of a new episode in the American Chemical Society Bytesize Science video series. The video, from the world’s largest scientific society, is at www.BytesizeScience.com.
It features Laurence Principe, Ph.D., a noted historian of science and expert on alchemy, which, far from being solely a misguided pseudoscience, helped set the stage for the emergence of modern science. Principe, who is with the Johns Hopkins University, shows viewers how to decipher cryptic alchemical symbols, images and texts. He explains how alchemists worked almost exclusively in symbols and codes to protect the powers of alchemy from falling into the wrong hands. Instead of recipes and chemical formulas, alchemists created woodcut prints and images of dragons, warriors and monsters — all symbolic representations of chemical ingredients.
Principe used these historical artifacts to recreate experiments once performed by alchemists. His lab features a collection of authentic alchemical tools and apparatuses, all used to perform alchemical experiments as accurately as possible.
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, OH.