Can you make gold out of mercury?

From alchemy to modern chemistry
Thomas Seilnacht

Alchemy (also known as alchemy) originated in Egypt in the 1st century AD, and its center was originally in Alexandria. The first person to describe alchemical working methods in detail was a woman named "Maria", about whose life practically nothing is known. In the writings of Mary, ovens and devices for distillation are described, as well as the implementation of the magnum opus. Zosimos of Panopolis, who already knew the writings of Mary, lived in Alexandria in the 4th century. One of the most famous Arab alchemists was Jabir ibn Hayyan (also Jabir arabicus), who is said to have lived in the 8th century.
Around 1150 the first Arabic works were translated into Latin, so alchemy found its way into medieval European culture. However, the early alchemical writings were written in the Greek language. The origin of the Latin term "alchemy" (and the German word "chemistry") is very complex. The Greek word chymeiea means "melting", from which became in Arabic kimiya. In connection with the Arabic article "Al" means al-kimiya as much as "teaching of metal casting". But the meaning is possibly even more original. In Egyptian denotes the word kemet the fertile, black earth of the Nile Delta.
In the mindset of alchemy, the chemical-technical aspect, for example metal extraction, was interwoven with spiritual ideas. The ultimate goal of metal transformation was the manufacture of gold with the help of the philosopher's stone. Again and again, bans on practicing alchemy were issued. Often, however, the prohibitions only served to underpin the claim to power that the kings and princes embodied with their gold possession. Because many of them were not so sure whether the transmutation of metals such as lead or mercury to gold might not be possible after all. This would have seriously affected the value of the gold.
The highest spiritual goal of alchemy consisted in the "redemption" from matter, in the perfection and purification of the soul. According to a modern interpretation one could also see the self-discovery processes of humans as such a goal. The term "materia prima" was adopted from the philosophy of Aristotle, an idea that all things consist of a structureless basic principle. Therefore, Aristotle's idea of ​​the four elements fire, earth, water and air was widespread in alchemical thought. In contrast to the philosopher Aristotle, however, the alchemists believed that they could materially prepare the primordial matter in a substance. To conceal the "chemical and divine art" they introduced secret symbols, and the preparation methods were often described vaguely and very mystically. The possibility of the transmutation of metals was vehemently advocated by some alchemists, for example at Geber, but others such as Albertus Magnus denied this possibility. According to the ideas of alchemy, the human being as a "microcosm" is an image and center of meaning of the macrocosm, of the entire creation (cf. Paracelus, there also> threefold theory). Alchemists like Johann Rudolph Glauber were rather pure practitioners who were hardly interested in mystical theories. Based on Jabir, however, many of the alchemists in the Middle Ages advocated the Mercurius-Sulfur theory.

Chemical marriage: union (coitus) of the complementary principles Sulfur (Pater Sol)
and Mercurius (Mater Luna); the claws in the earth symbolize the materia perfectly;
Illustration from: Mylius, Anatomiae auri sive tyrocinium medico-chymicum 1628
The notions of basic principles contained in matter are widespread to this day. Hence one cannot speak of an "end" of alchemy. Robert Boyle (1627-1691) laid the foundation for the term element as we understand it today. "He was the one who convincingly demonstrated that there had to be much more elements than four elements - water, earth, fire, air - in order to explain the diversity of substances and that an element must be used to denote those uniform substances that one no longer in two different ways can convert other substances. " (Quote from Peter Buck in> History of the Periodic Table). In addition, Boyle is considered the founder of the modern empirical method, which questions a theory and backs it up through numerous, verified variation experiments. But even with Antoine de Lavoisier, who refuted the phlogiston theory, we still find the ideas of the "principes", of the original principles that build up matter. But Lavoisier also introduced a quantitatively measuring science. The more precise definition of the concept of the element and the atom by modern chemistry and physics removed natural science even further from the original, alchemical ways of thinking.
However, alchemy has always experienced a renaissance, so Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) dealt intensively with alchemy and the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) recognized in the dream symbols of his patients archetypal processes in the subconscious, which are associated with correlate with the process of alchemy becoming self.
The Philosopher's Stone

Producing gold artificially is an age-old dream of mankind. Attempts for this were made in ancient times, for example in ancient Egypt. The key substance for this in alchemy was the Philosopher's Stone (also stone of the philosophers or Lapis philosophorum). With the Philosopher's Stone one often hoped to find an elixir that would promise eternal life. One imagined a kind of magical powder with which the metal conversion, the Transmutation, succeed. The process of making the Philosopher's Stone has been referred to as the "great work" (Magnum opus). The initiated alchemist who mastered the knowledge of the great secrets of alchemy was considered to be Adept. The adepts lived in secrecy or often traveled around under assumed names. According to tradition, some adepts actually owned the philosopher's stone.
During the work process, the colors that appear played an important role. The success of the great work was believed to be recognized by the appearance of reddening (rubedo). Gold and mercury were often used as the starting material. What is remarkable is the fact that even with a gold content of up to 10%, the mercury practically does not change its external appearance. Many serious alchemists have described gold making in their works. Others, however, made fun of the goldmakers' methods of deception and described their methods. Pope John XXII. (1244-1334) issued a verdict against alchemy, which, however, was rarely followed.

Some "alchemists" claimed that they could make gold and went from court to court to show a "sample" of their alleged art. Many rulers and princes fell for it and made financial means available to the goldmakers, even if the goldmaker could clearly see the money shortage. The art of the demonstration consisted in smuggling gold in as inconspicuously as possible. Due to their sophistication, some achieved great fame temporarily, such as the Italian gold maker Dominico Emanuele Caetano, who was executed in 1709 on the Prussian fortress of Küstrin on the orders of Frederick I on a gallows covered with tinsel. The pharmacist's assistant and initial gold maker Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) had better luck. In the same year of Caetano's execution, Böttger presented the invention of European porcelain. However, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, who died in 1708, played a key role in the development of European porcelain.
In 1722, the French chemist Étienne Geoffroy (1672-1731), who was best known for his tablet on the relationship between chemical substances, published a treatise in which he described in detail the deceitful methods of the goldmakers. He described crucibles with double bottoms or wooden sticks with a cavity into which gold could be smuggled. According to Geoffroy, a common "trick" used by gold makers was a prepared nail in which one half of gold was soldered to one half of iron. The gold was coated with an iron color, this came off during the "transmutation process" and the gold appeared. Geoffroy was able to present such prepared nails from fraudulent goldmakers as evidence. The Grand Duke of Toscana even kept such a nail. Geoffroy's arguments seemed so devastating that from the time Geoffroy's publication until today hardly anyone believed in the production of alchemical gold.
Eminent authors

Zosimos of Panopolis 
lived in Alexandria between 350 and 420 AD
The work of Zosimos mainly contains quotations from older authors. In an exchange of letters with a woman named Thesobeia, Zosimos warns of a fraudulent gold maker. Thesobeia are dedicated to 28 treatises written in letter form. Unfortunately only fragments of it have survived. In one part, Zosimos speaks of the origins of alchemy and reports on the oppressive conditions during gold digging in the mines of the Egyptian kings. He also describes various processing methods for metal extraction and technical apparatus and furnaces in which sulfur is sublimed. In addition to the letters of Zosimo, there are also writings with visionary ideas. Alchemical, secret working methods are possibly described there in encrypted form.

Jabir ibn Hayyan (also called "Geber arabicus")
lived in the 8th century (approx. 725-812)
The work "Corpus Gabirianum" is ascribed to Jabir. This is a summary of the knowledge of that time. However, it is controversial whether this work can be entirely attributed to Jabir. Parts of it could have been written later. In any case, it is interesting that the mineral acids are already mentioned therein. It also describes the working method of fractional distillation. The work also refers to the Mercurius-Sulfur principle. The volatility of mercury was ascribed to it, its existence as a liquid metal embodied the principle of permanence, and sulfur embodied the principle of flammability. This so-called Mercurius-Sulfur theory was taken up by many later alchemists, for example Albertus Magnus. So the alchemists believed that the metals ripened in the earth under the influence of these principles. In the case of mercury, Geber spoke of "the matter of metals"; Paracelsus added the principle of "sal" (the salt that embodies the human body) in his three-principle doctrine. Jabir was also the first to describe the production of ammonia by distilling hair.

Avicenna (Abdallah ibn Sina)
born before 980 in Afshana (Uzbekistan), died 1037 in Hamadan (Persia)
Avicenna left a huge work and has influenced the entire Arab world to this day. He lived as a court official in the residence of the then Shah of Persia. Two writings are of importance to alchemy: The book Qanun (Latin Canon) represents a summary of all medical knowledge since Aristotle. This includes the galenic medicine of Galenus of Pergamon (129-199). The work is divided into five parts. In the first part, Avicenna goes into the epistemological foundations of medicine. In the second part he lists almost 800 active pharmaceutical ingredients. In the third part he describes diseases that affect individual organs or parts of the body. The fourth part deals with diseases such as fever and symptoms of intoxication that affect the whole body. The fifth part describes the preparation instructions for medicinal products. The book concludes with a section on personal hygiene and healthy living.
The more philosophical book "Kitab ash-Shifa" (Book of Mental Recovery) is a scientific encyclopedia that covers topics such as arithmetic, astronomy, ethics, geometry, logic, mathematics, natural philosophy or theology. The philosopher and physician Avicenna was not an alchemist, he even fought against prevailing doctrines of alchemy. So he questioned the authenticity of the gold made by alchemists. Nevertheless, he had a lasting influence on many alchemists, mainly because of his medical work, because practicing alchemy was traditionally almost always associated with the production of remedies.

Albertus Magnus (see> Portrait)
born before 1200 in Lauingen an der Donau, died on November 15, 1280 in Cologne

Bacon, Roger
born around 1214 near Ilchester, died around 1292 in Oxford
Bacon studied in Oxford and Paris, where he gave lectures on Aristotle from 1246, whom he valued and translated. In 1257 he became a Franciscan monk, and from 1266 Pope Clement IV commissioned him to reform the teaching disciplines. As part of this work, his well-known works "Opus maius", "Opus minus" and "Opus tertium" were created. In these works, Bacon took the view that university curricula should be reformed. Instead of studying Latin commentary literature, studying ancient languages ​​such as Greek and Hebrew should come to the fore again. In Opus maius, Bacon asserted that mathematics in particular is the prerequisite for any scientific work. Only with her would one come to the full truth without error. But above all empirical experience, "without which nothing can be adequately known", is the basis for gaining knowledge. Like Albertus Magnus, Bacon placed the experiment ("Scientia Experimentalis") in a central position. However, the approach taken by Bacon cannot yet be compared with the empirically and experimentally oriented science of Robert Boyle, in many areas Bacon was still caught up in magic. Alchemy distinguishes Bacon into a speculative and an operational one. Speculative, theoretically oriented alchemy describes the formation of bodies from the four elements (of Aristotle), it is the basis for medicine and natural philosophy. Bacon believed he could prolong life with the help of alchemical medicines that are produced under the influence of the stars and planets. In operational, practical alchemy, Bacon described the manufacture of colors and metals.
After Clement IV's death, Bacon ran into difficulties, especially his preoccupation with alchemy and astrology and his ideas about the apocalypse brought him into conflict with the church. His writings were banned from 1278, and Bacon himself was imprisoned for 10 years.
Bacon, Roger: About Experience, Science and Action. A selection from Opus maius, Freiburg i.Brg. 2007

Lullus, Raimundus
born around 1232 in Palma de Mallorca, died around 1315 in an unknown location
Raimundus Lullus initially lived as a Spanish nobleman at the king's court. He later turned to religion and became a deeply devout missionary. His publications included numerous works on philosophy, theology, medicine, mathematics, astrology and law. On his travels he wanted to evangelize Muslims, Jews and people of different faiths to the Catholic faith and even advocated crusades. The philosopher Lullus tried to derive generally valid truths by combining concepts, for example in the book "Logica Nova" (The new truth). Legend has it that he survived the stoning by an angry crowd in North Africa around 1315. On the way back from Tunis to Mallorca, however, he probably died of the consequences.
After Raimundus Lullus' death, numerous alchemical works were foisted. Therefore, today it is difficult to decide who wrote the lyrics. In this context one speaks of the "pseudo-Lulli" work. This probably includes the book "Testamentum", which was written around 1332. Based on Roger Bacon, the book is divided into a theoretical and a practical part. In the "Theoria", alchemy is described as "scientia experimentalis", an empirical science that describes and researches nature. The highest goal is the production of the Philosopher's Stone and the healing of the human body and soul at the same time. In the pseudo-Lullian work, numerous alchemical working processes are described, for example the production of ammonium carbonate by heating rotten urine or the production of pure wine spirit (today: ethyl alcohol) by multiple distillation and subsequent purification. The effect of nitric acid on metals and the preparation of parting water ("aqua fortis acuta", 50% nitric acid) and aqua regia is already described in the pseudo-Lulli writings.

Geber (unknown author, also called "Geber latinus")
Works written at the end of the 13th century
In the past, Geber's writings were assigned to the Arab alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Today it is assumed that the Italian Franciscan monk Paulus of Tarento is hiding behind Geber. Geber's most important writing is the work "Summa perfectionis magisterii" (The highest accomplishment of the masterpiece).Geber himself is guided by the conviction that metals can mutually transform one another, i.e. that gold can be produced artificially (cf.> Philosopher's Stone). At the beginning of the work he deals with the "opponents" of this conviction. The opponents say "One is hardly able to produce the gold artificially. From this they conclude that it is impossible to produce the gold artificially. To which I reply that your conclusion does not convince us of the impossibility of producing gold artificially." (Geber in Darmstaedter: Die Alchemie des Geber, p. 28). According to Geber there are three "basic substances" of metals, namely sulfur, arsenic and mercury. Mercury plays a central role in this. "According to some researchers, it is also the matter of metals together with sulfur. It easily combines with three metals, namely lead, tin and gold. Somewhat more difficult with silver, even more difficult with copper than with silver." It only combines with iron if a trick is used. From this one can discern a secret: it likes to combine with metals that are similar in nature to itself, and it is a means of composing tinctures. It sinks in nothing beneath it but the gold. Tin, lead and copper are dissolved by it and mix with it. Without the mercury one cannot gild metal. It can be dissolved and made permanent, and it is a tincture for gold of abundant power and bright shine. " (Donor in Darmstaedter, p. 37)
In the book "Liber fornacum" the typical, alchemical work processes such as sublimation, distillation, calcination (today: oxidation), descension (today: reduction), melting or dissolving are described. However, well-known working methods of the Arab alchemists are summarized, so it can be assumed that the production of nitric acid was also known before Geber. In the chapter "About dissolving liquids and emollient oils" in the book "Liber de inventione veritatis" writes Geber: "First take a pound of vitriol, half a pound of saltpetre and a quarter of a pound of alum (aluminis jameni). Make this liquid cum rubigine alembici, because it has a strong dissolving effect (...) it becomes even sharper when you use it dissolve a quarter of a pound of ammonia. The liquid then dissolves gold, sulfur and silver. " (from Darmstaedter, pp. 113 and 114) Here Geber describes the preparation of nitric acid from copper sulfate, potassium nitrate and alum, as well as the preparation of aqua regia by dissolving ammonium chloride in nitric acid.
Darmstaedter, Ernst: Die Alchemie des Geber, Reprint Vaduz 1995

Biringuccio, Vannoccio
born (baptized) on October 20, 1480 in Siena, died in Rome in August 1537
The young Biringuccio was able to travel extensively from Italy, as he was supported by the noble Petrucci family. In 1507, his travels took him to Bohemia and Saxony, where he got to know the mining and metalworking industry there. In the same year he also met Leonardo da Vinci. Biringuccio was later entrusted with various public offices, for example he oversaw the Italian mines or supervised the production of coins in Siena. From 1523 he was responsible for the production of saltpetre in the Republic of Siena. Due to political unrest he had to leave Siena several times, it was problematic for him that he was dependent on the Petruccis, some of which were ruling tyrranians. In 1535 he was appointed by the Pope to be the architect of St. Peter's Basilica, which was already under construction.
The author Biringuccio became famous with his "Ten Books of Fireworks Art" (Note: not to be confused with the Fireworks Book of the Prussian State Library). The first complete edition appeared after his death in 1540 under the title "De La Pirotechnia Libri X". The books aren't just about making fireworks and gunpowder. The first nine books deal with the mining of minerals and ores and the smelting of metals. He describes how to extract mercury and sulfur, how to separate silver and gold or how to make alloys. He goes into detail about the bronze casting and shows how bells and guns are cast. The blacksmithing, for example the making of a coin or the drawing of gold, silver, copper or brass wire is carried out as well as the construction of various furnaces. Only in the tenth book is it about the production of gunpowder for war purposes and of incendiary material for fireworks for popular amusement. Together with Agricola's "De re metallica" (1556), the "Pirotechnica" was the standard work for metal processing at that time. Incidentally, Agricola took over entire passages from Biringuccio's book.

Theophrastus of Hohenheim (Paracelsus) (see> Portrait)
born around 1493/94 in Einsiedeln (Switzerland), died on September 24, 1541 in Salzburg

Agricola, Georgius (see> Portrait)
born on March 24, 1494 in Glauchau, died on November 21, 1555 in Chemnitz

Libavius, Andreas
born around 1555 in Halle, died on July 25, 1616 in Coburg

Libavius ​​summarized the chemical knowledge of his time in his main work "Alchemia" (first edition 1597). The first part of the work describes the structure of a multi-storey laboratory. In addition, numerous ovens and other tools are presented. In the second part, Libavius ​​deals with the production of medicines, various substances and tinctures. In his writings, Libavius ​​was the first to describe the production of a substance similar to hydrochloric acid by glowing table salt and clay.
Meitzner, Bettina: The devices of chemical art - The treatise "De Sceuastica Artis" by Andreas Libavius ​​from 1606, Stuttgart 1995

Basilius Valentinus (fictional author)
The assignment is not certain; the publisher of the writings, Johann Thölde, may be the author. Thölde died in 1624.

Like Paracelsus, Basilius Valentinus represented the doctrine of three principles. He was also a follower of the microcosm-macrocosm teaching. According to this idea, the human being is a microcosm as an image of the macrocosm or the rest of creation. The origins of astrology, which propagates the influence of the stars on humans, can also be seen in this imagination. The working methods described by Basilius Valentinus are of chemical historical importance: Shortly after Libavius, he described the production of hydrochloric acid or the conversion of "vitriol" (copper sulfate) with table salt, which resulted in "caustic water" ("aqua caustica"). In addition, there is the historically first representation of fiery gold (cf. also> Glauber), as well as working methods for cleaning gold and a description of the various vitriols (today: sulfates). In his writings, numerous ways of representing metals from ores are described. Basilius' method for extracting the antimony is considered to be the first working instruction for the preparation of the pure metal.

Helmont, Johannes Baptista van
born on January 12, 1579 in Brussels, died on December 30, 1644 in Brussels
Helmont came from a rural noble family and studied at the University of Leuven. After obtaining his doctorate, he wandered through various European countries and settled in Vilvoorde near Brussels as a doctor in 1606, where he ran a laboratory. In 1616 he went to Brussels with his family. In 1621 the medical book "De Magnetica Vulnerum Curatione" was published without his consent. Numerous doctors and theologians attacked him thereupon, in 1625 the Spanish Inquisition condemned large parts of it as heretical. Helmont was accused of questioning the healing properties of religion. During interrogation, Helmont admitted to representing the teachings of Paracelsus. He was then placed under house arrest until his death. It was not until 1646, two years after his death, that the widow managed to get rehabilitation.
Like Paracelsus, Helmont fought the scholarly knowledge of books, which was based on logic and reason. He rejected the Aristotelian doctrine of the four elements. According to Helmont, true knowledge begins with self-knowledge; alchemy with its experimental working methods supports this process; this is the only way to achieve divine enlightenment. Only this "art of fire" leads to the inner essence of things. For Helmont there are two principles: The water embodies the material principle from which the other substances arise, while the seed represents the spiritual, i.e. spiritual principle. According to Helmont, with the formation of water vapor when water is boiled, the spiritual essence of water comes to light.
In his famous experiment, Helmont grew a willow on a weighed amount of earth. Since the mass of the earth hardly changed during this time and the tree increased in weight considerably, Helmont believed that the water supplied had turned into wood, i.e. into earth. In other experiments he observed "gases" that were different from air. The gas "spiritus sylvestre" (today: carbon dioxide) was created when charcoal was burned or when grapes were fermented. Helmont used the word gas to refer to the term "chaos", with which the alchemists associated a state of primordial matter. However, the concept of gas only gradually gained acceptance among chemists in the 18th century. Like other alchemists, Helmont still believed in the transmutation of metals.

Glauber, Johann Rudolph (see> Portrait)
born 1604 in Karlstadt (Franconia), died March 10, 1670 in Amsterdam

Boyle, Robert
born January 15, 1627 in Munster, died December 31, 1691 in London
Robert Boyle grew up in a wealthy family with 14 children. From 1656 he taught at Oxford University and founded the Royal Society with other scientists in 1660. Financially well off and independently, Boyle published more than 40 books. Some of them also deal with religion and theology.
Boyle rejected pure book knowledge and speculation; He is considered the founder of modern experimental chemistry, which refers to empirical experience and includes theoretical knowledge, but subjects it to a thorough and skeptical criticism. He described in detail experimental results and discussed sources of error. These aroused special interest in him, as one could learn a lot from them. He carried out numerous variation experiments by varying the conditions and the mode of operation. For him, theories were only valid if they could be proven experimentally with a series of variations.
Boyle's experiments with pumps led him to the physical properties of atmospheric air. He found a connection between air pressure and gas volume. The French physicist Edme Mariotte (1620-1684) found the same law independently of Boyle. After this Boyle and Mariotte gas law is the product of the print p and the volume V. constant at constant temperature. As a result, when the volume is compressed to half, the pressure doubles (Note: Boyle's law only applies to ideal gases that are not subject to any interaction).
Boyle rejected the three principle doctrine of the earlier alchemists as well as the doctrine of the four elements of Aristotle. In his famous book "The Skeptical Chemist" he questions these theories and discusses experimental results. With the help of numerous experiments, he proves that substances such as gold, mercury or copper cannot be broken down and calls them "elements" or "unmixed bodies". He produces their metal salts and recovers the pure metals from them. For Boyle, the metal salts are "mixed bodies":
"I now understand by elements, like those chemists who speak most clearly, by their principles: certain primordial and simple or perfectly mixed unmixed bodies; since they are not made one of the other or of other bodies, they are the constituents of which all so-called perfectly mixed bodies are directly composed and into which they are ultimately broken down. " (Quote from "The Skeptical Chemist")

The book "The Skeptical Chemist" caused a tremendous sensation in the professional world and led to the processes involved in chemical reactions being given closer attention. This laid the experimental basis for later theories such as Lavoisier's theory of oxidation.
While Boyle's theories were occasionally interpreted as a revolution in chemistry in the 17th century, he was still associated with traditional alchemy. He kept his own alchemical writings secret or wrote them down in encrypted notes. So he held on to the conviction that a transmutation of metals or a transformation of the elements was possible. He firmly believed that he had found a red earth with the abilities of a "philosopher's stone".
Boyle, Robert: The skeptical chemist, Reprint Thun - Frankfurt a.M. 2000

Newton, Isaac
probably born in December 1642 in Woolsthorpe, died on March 31, 1727 in London
Newton became famous above all for his works "Mathematical Foundations of Natural Philosophy" and "Optics". On the pioneering achievements of the physicist on astronomy and planetary movements in the "Prinzipia" (shortened title of the Mathematical Foundations of Natural Philosophy, 1687) or on the "Reflections, Refractions, Diffraction and Colors of Light" (subtitles of the "Opticks", 1704 and 1717) will not be discussed here. Both books are still available today (see attached literature sources).
For Newton, alchemy was another form of approach to describing nature. Newton carried out his alchemical studies mostly in secret. Newton referred primarily to the alchemist Michael Maier (1569-1622) and was convinced that a secret knowledge was hidden in alchemy. According to Newton, alchemy provided an insight into the divine act of creation. So he understood the creation account of the Bible as an allegorical description of such a process. 96 manuscripts - some in the form of copies - are known from Newton's legacy that deal with alchemy. But also in the "Opticks" there are cautious, very speculative references to mysterious forces that exist between the "small particles":
"Do not the small particles of the body possess certain forces by which they act in the distance not only on the rays of light in order to reflect, refract and bend them, but also mutually on each other, whereby they produce a large part of natural phenomena? (...) The attractions of gravity, magnetism and electricity extend to noticeable distances and as a result have been observed by all the eyes of the world, but there may well be others that only reach so small a distance that they have escaped observation until now ... " (Newton: Opticks, 2nd edition 1717, pp. 125-126)
One could conclude from this that Newton anticipated the knowledge of modern physics and chemistry. According to an interpretation by Karin Figala, according to Newton, there is a "Invisible seed center in every visible body that is equated with a sublimated Mercury" (...) Microscopic forces between the particles of matter can therefore explain chemical processes - a concept that reflects magical notions of a mysterious connection between things ". (Quotes and interpretation of Figala in Priesner, p. 255). In the part of the 3rd book of "Optics" added in the 2nd edition, Newton remains emphatically factual and describes mainly chemical phenomena. His foresight is carefully formulated speculatively, so he suggests a composition theory about the structure of substances:
"Now the smallest particles of matter can be connected by the strongest attraction and form larger particles of weaker force; of these many can again be connected and form larger particles whose force is still weaker, and so on in various successions until the progression with the largest Particles on which the chemical operations and the colors of natural bodies depend and which, through their cohesion, form bodies of perceptible size " (Newton: Opticks, 2nd edition 1717, pp. 138-139)
Perhaps Karin Figula over-interpreted the alchemist Isaac Newton. Newton may have only anticipated one principle that is generally accepted today, even if his ideas about the forces between the particles are outdated: the idea of ​​the structure of matter according to a nesting principle from the small particles to larger, higher-level units. In this respect, his remarks on a compositional principle for the structure of material substances are extremely remarkable.
Figula, Karin: Isaac Newton in Priesner / Figala: Alchemie, Munich 1998, page 252 ff.
Newton, Isaac: Mathematical Foundations of Natural Philosophy, Reprint Hamburg 1988
Newton, Isaac: Optics or treatise on reflections, refractions, diffraction and colors of light, Reprint Thun and Frankfurt a.M. 1996

Stahl, Georg Ernst
born on October 21, 1660 in Ansbach, died on May 14, 1734 in Berlin
Stahl studied medicine in Jena from 1679. After receiving his doctorate, he first taught in Jena and in 1687 became the personal physician of Duke Johann Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar.In 1694 he was appointed professor of medicine at the University of Halle. From 1715 until the end of his life he was the personal physician of King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia in Berlin.
The strict demarcation of dead matter from the living organism, which is determined by its soul to a goal-oriented behavior, is something new with Stahl, this idea is no longer alchemical. The air, the water and the earth were still three elementary principles for steel. Stahl's phlogiston theory was also still tainted with alchemical ideas (see also> Lavoisier). According to the phlogiston theory, all combustible substances should contain a "fuel" or a "phlogiston" that escapes during combustion. According to Stahl, this mixes with the air and makes it unsuitable for maintaining further burns ("phlogistic air"). When the process is reversed, the phlogiston is reintroduced. Stahl was the discoverer of the reversibility of such reactions (today one would say: redox reactions), but it was Lavoisier who was only able to interpret the processes correctly with his oxidation theory.

Böttger, Johann Friedrich
born on February 4, 1682 in Schleiz, died on March 13, 1719 in Dresden
Böttger trained as a pharmacist's assistant in Friedrich Zorn's pharmacy and during this time worked hard to find the philosopher's stone. He got his knowledge from traveling goldmakers like the monk Laskaris. Böttger succeeded in producing a red tincture with which he then carried out a "transmutation". The alchemist was not aware that he was turning colloidal gold back into yellow gold. At the time, most goldmakers were considered cheaters. While fleeing from the attack of King Friedrich I of Prussia, Böttger came to Wittenberg and to the court of the Elector of Saxony, August the Strong. Böttger promised him the production of large quantities of gold, but he did not succeed. After another escape, Böttger was arrested and imprisoned at the Königstein Fortress. From 1707 he worked in the laboratory of Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708) together with him on the imitation of Chinese porcelain. After Tschirnhaus' death in 1708, Böttger perfected the manufacture of white porcelain from the clay stone kaolin in the Dresden laboratory from 1709. With the establishment of the porcelain manufactory in Meißen in 1711, the elector made great fortune. In 1714 Böttger was given his freedom again. The production process for the manufacture of the "white gold" was later revealed by an employee to Vienna.

Lavoisier, Antoine de (see> Portrait)
born on August 26, 1743 in Paris, died on May 8, 1794 in Paris (executed)


Bugge, G .: The Book of Great Chemists, Weinheim 1929
Hoffmann, Dieter (ed.), Inter alia: Lexicon of important natural scientists, Munich 2004
Priesner, Claus and Figala, Karin: Alchemie, Munich 1998