March 12, 2005

Newton and Alchemy

Posted at March 12, 2005 07:02 PM in Notable People .

This is a pretty cool site: http://www.indiana.edu/~college/WilliamNewmanProject.shtml.

William Newman, a professor who has written several interesting scholastic books looking at the origins of chemistry as a science in alchemical thought and the people that played a role in it, has been conducting experiments replicating alchemical work. He's following notes and plans from Isaac Newton to look at the results produced by Newton's alchemical experiments. The page has many pictures and I find it quite refreshing to see a chemist not following the example of people from previous decades who liked to pretend that Newton's alchemical work either didn't exist or were just ravings as his sanity became questionable later in life or somesuch.

In Newman's own words, from the page:

I am at present deciphering Isaac Newton's chymical laboratory notebooks and manuscripts, the subject of a forthcoming BBC/NOVA documentary, much of which was filmed at IU. Newton spent some thirty years working on chymistry, and yet the goals of his project and their relationship to his physics and religion remain obscure. One thing is clear, however. Newton based his research heavily on the work of "Eirenaeus Philalethes" or George Starkey, about whom I have written extensively. Hence my background in Starkey's work gives me an important Ariadne's thread into the labyrinth of Newton's alchemy, and one that I am busily exploiting. At the same time, Newton left clear directions for making chymical furnaces and other apparatus, as well as processes for the star regulus of antimony, a copper-antimony alloy called "the net," and other products of the laboratory. He also wrote a manuscript discussing metallic "vegetation," the formation of dendrites from salts and metals. To Newton, the fact that metals could be made to grow in a flask was a sign that they possessed a sort of life, and could therefore be made to ferment, putrefy, and ultimately multiply.

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