Alchemist - Overview - Relation To The Science of Chemistry

Relation To The Science of Chemistry

Practical applications of alchemy produced a wide range of contributions to medicine and the physical sciences. The alchemist Robert Boyle is credited as being the father of chemistry. Paracelsian iatrochemistry emphasized the medicinal application of alchemy (continued in plant alchemy, or spagyric). Studies of alchemy also influenced Isaac Newton's theory of gravity. Academic historical research supports that the alchemists were searching for a material substance using physical methods.

It is a popular belief that alchemists made contributions to the "chemical" industries of the day—ore testing and refining, metalworking, production of gunpowder, ink, dyes, paints, cosmetics, leather tanning, ceramics, glass manufacture, preparation of extracts, liquors, and so on (it seems that the preparation of aqua vitae, the "water of life", was a fairly popular "experiment" among European alchemists). Alchemists contributed distillation to Western Europe. The attempts of alchemists to arrange information on substances, so as to clarify and anticipate the products of their chemical reactions, resulted in early conceptions of chemical elements and the first rudimentary periodic tables. They learned how to extract metals from ores, and how to compose many types of inorganic acids and bases.

During the 17th century, practical alchemy started to disappear in favor of its younger offshoot chemistry, as it was renamed by Robert Boyle, the "father of modern chemistry". In his book, The Skeptical Chymist, Boyle attacked Paracelsus and the natural philosophy of Aristotle, which was taught at universities. However, Boyle's biographers, in their emphasis that he laid the foundations of modern chemistry, neglect how steadily he clung to the scholastic sciences and to alchemy, in theory, practice and doctrine. The decline of alchemy continued in the 18th century with the birth of modern chemistry, which provided a more precise and reliable framework within a new view of the universe based on rational materialism.

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