Today’s New York Times carries an article by John Noble Wilford on the revival of academic interest in alchemy. The article was occasioned by a conference late last month, hosted by the Chemical Heritage Foundation and organized by Lawrence M. Principe.
The Times article discusses the research presented at the alchemy conference including a paper by William R. Newman. Newman spoke about Issac Newton’s fascination with alchemy: “his notebooks contain thousands of pages on alchemic thoughts and experiments over 30 years,” reports the Times.
Chicago has published a number of books that reflect the new interest in alchemy. Principe and Newman collaborated on Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry, which argues that many of the principles and practices characteristic of modern chemistry derive from alchemy. They also edited a key alchemical text, the Alchemical Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence of George Starkey.
Newman is the author of the recently published Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution, in which he challenges the view that alchemy impeded the development of rational chemistry. Newman also wrote Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature, an investigation of the how alchemists thought about the difference between the natural and the artificial. We have an excerpt from Promethean Ambitions.