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Science

Submission + - Isaac Newton, Alchemist (nytimes.com)

Pickens writes: "It wasn't easy being Isaac Newton because he didn't like wasting time: Newton didn't play sports or a musical instrument, gamble at whist or gambol on a horse. Newton was unmarried, had no known romantic liaisons and may well have died, at the age of 85, with his virginity intact. But, as Natalie Angier writes in the NY Times, it is now becoming clear that Newton had time to spend night upon dawn for three decades of his life slaving over a stygian furnace in search of the power to transmute one chemical element into another. "How could the ultimate scientist have been seemingly hornswoggled by a totemic psuedoscience like alchemy, which in its commonest rendering is described as the desire to transform lead into gold," writes Angier. Now new historical research describes how alchemy yielded a bounty of valuable spinoffs, including new drugs, brighter paints, stronger soaps and better booze. "Alchemy was synonymous with chemistry," says Dr. William Newman, "and chemistry was much bigger than transmutation." Newman adds that Newton's alchemical investigations helped yield one of his fundamental breakthroughs in physics: his discovery that white light is a mixture of colored rays that can be recombined with a lens. “I would go so far as to say that alchemy was crucial to Newton’s breakthroughs in optics,” says Newman. “He’s not just passing light through a prism — he’s resynthesizing it.”"
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Isaac Newton, Alchemist

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