Welcome to Chemistry Connections, my name is Cameron Scott/Anish Ponnam and we are your hosts for episode #19, The Chemistry of Alchemy. Today we will be discussingthe chemical origins of one of the most famous myths of all time.
Segment 1: Introduction to Alchemy
What is the legend of the alchemists?:
- The history of the word alchemy comes from 332 BC when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and this led Greek concepts of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water to merge with the Egyptian science of the time. This merging of ideologies led way to concept of Khemia, which was the Greek word for Egypt. Finally, when the Arabs occupied Egypt in the 7th century, they decided to add the prefix “al-” to the word “Khemia” and this led to Alkhemia being made and is now believed to be the origin of the word Alchemy.
- Although alchemy was thought to be originated in Egypt, China also developed their own method of alchemy through the use of minerals and plants which was thought to prolong life and also the use of exercise techniques, such as Qigong, to manipulate the chi or life force of the body.
- India also developed their own version of alchemy which was very similar to that of China’s in which they wanted to use it to prolong life by purifying the body. Due to their curiosity with Alchemy, the indians were able to invent steel which is used in everyday construction as the framework of buildings.
Segment 2: The Chemistry Behind Alchemy
When lead acetate and potassium iodide are mixed in solution, a precipitate of lead iodide is formed.
Explain how lead acetate was available during the alchemy times
Produced by first burning elemental lead (creating lead oxide), then boiling it in acetic acid. In other words, vinegar.
It has been documented that the romans used lead acetate as a sweetner, and the remains of those who lived during that time period, even Pope Clement II, have been found to indicate death by lead acetate poisoning.
Explain how Potassium iodide was available in the alchemy times
KI has a high natural source in kelp, which draws in high concentrations of iodine from seawater during its photosynthesis process.
KI can be extracted from seaweed by singeing it down to ash, then filtering the ash with distilled water to separate it from charcoal particles
Mediterranean societies have been documented using seaweed for food and medical production
It is plausible that an alchemist was able to derive KI from seaweed
Segment 3: Personal Connections
Pretty much its cool as hell and the solution you get from the experiment is beautiful.
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