Getting Ready for Alchemy

Preparing for Alchemy Demonstrations

Albert Harvey will soon start to appear at historical events, museums, etc. and, if we’re lucky, maybe even some schools. He’ll definitely be at some science festivals.

In the meantime, Albert has been practicing and preparing for some demonstrations.

He can make Divine Water, which was used in the process of transmuting base metals into gold. Here it is being prepared, and a couple of photos of the finished product.

Alchemy - Divine Water 1

Just off the hotplate

Alchemy - Divine Water 2

Filtered Divine Water

Alchemy - Transmuted Silver Coin

Silver Coin Transmuted into Gold with Divine Water


If you dip a copper coin into the Divine Water it immediately turns black, or is killed in the parlance of alchemy. It’s very strong stuff. If you dip silver in, it turns it gold; but leave it in too long and, again, it will kill the silver.

In modern terms, Divine Water is a solution of Calcium polysulphide, so all it does is put a sulphide layer over the metal. Copper sulphide is black but, if you can get it right, Silver sulphide forms a lustrous yellow layer over the silver, colouring it gold. This colour is due to the way the light interacts with the silver and the sulphide layer. If it’s too thick it will turn black. In alchemy you would have killed the metal and need to melt it to revive it.

As you can see from the photo, Albert needs more practice in using the Divine Water in his alchemy.




A more successful, and spectacular, demonstration of transmutation is show in the video below:


As you can see this appears to have been a successful transmutation, one of the goals of alchemy. First the bronze 1p coin was transmuted into silver (process not shown) then, as the video shows, transmuted into shiny gold before your very eyes.

Obviously it’s not really gold, but a medieval practitioner of alchemy would have been awestruck by this demonstration. In reality the copper penny was plated with zinc, using a hot solution of Sodium zincate. The coin was then heated to over 350oC, causing the zinc to diffuse into the underlying copper, forming an outer alloy of brass which, when fresh, looks very much like gold.

The old alchemists, of course, would soon have figured out that this was not a true transmutation, as they had very reliable tests for gold, and this would have failed dismally. But a charlatan practicing the alchemy of transmutation in front of a gullible audience would have had no problem convincing them of what they had just seen and taking a lot of money in the process……

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