From Alchemy to Chemistry

in Inventing Chemistry

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780226677606
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226677620 | DOI:
From Alchemy to Chemistry

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This chapter deals with Herman Boerhaave's experimental work in transmutational alchemy and the composition of metals, and reviews his published conclusions from his alchemical work “De Mercurio Experimenta.” The method that he developed, shaped by his academic context and pedagogical concerns, contributed to his rejection to his belief regarding the composition of metals, which he had held for most of his career. Boerhaave started a series of alchemical experiments that focused on the amalgamation and “digestion” of mercury with other metals. His alchemical career in the laboratory was one marked by failures. The accounts in “De Mercurio Experimenta” depicted actual experiments that Boerhaave had conducted, but they were highly sanitized depictions which often he had worked out through several experimental trials. His rejection of mercurialist alchemy in “De Mercurio Experimenta” proved to his faith in his method.

Keywords: transmutational alchemy; Herman Boerhaave; metals; De Mercurio Experimenta; amalgamation; digestion; mercurialist alchemy

Chapter.  9631 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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