What Was Alchemy, Where Did the Ancient Practice Come From, and What Does the Word Alchemy Mean In Arabic?

Modern chemistry had its beginnings in the strange practices of alchemy.

Alchemy got its name from an Arabic word meaning “Egypt” because at first it was a secret cult of Egyptian priests.

From their studies, the priests learned glassmaking, metalworking, and methods of preserving mummies.

By the time alchemy reached Europe centuries later, alchemists had a single goal: to turn common metals into gold.

Alchemists never succeeded in turning other metals into gold, but they did make some interesting discoveries.

The Flemish alchemist Jan van Helmont started to turn alchemy into the science of chemistry around 1630.

His experiments produced fumes, or gases, as he called them, and he noticed how different the gases appeared. They were different colors.

Some would extinguish flames and some would burn if lit.

He concluded that each gas was an airlike substance, but he did not know how to study the gases because they mixed with the air so quickly.

An eighteenth century English minister would solve the problem and become the discoverer of oxygen and soda pop.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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