When it comes to describing their laboratories it is all too easy to rely on clouds of coloured smoke to hide the details. Alchemists are inextricably linked to the obsessive search for a way to turn base metals into Gold. But the reality is that many were employed as doctors and philosophers, and their scientific skills were much in demand. Their laboratories were the setting in which many of the modern day lab techniques were first developed. These included:
- Distillation – heating 2 or more liquids (mixed together) so that the liquid with the lowest boiling point (the most volatile or mot easily evaporated) is turned to vapor which is then condensed (returned to liquid state) and collected in another container.
- Filtration – using some material which strains out solid particles from solution
- Crystallization – causing some solution to form crystals, usually by drying it.
- Coagulation – causing a liquid to become a soft, semi-solid mass.
- Evaporation – using heat to cause a liquid (or some part of liquid) to be changed into a vapor.
- Extraction – removing one liquid or solid from another mixture by using solvents that dissolve only one of the original substances, thus forming a separate layer or area where separation takes place.
- (Source: Alchemy Notes)
These early pioneers of chemistry and science are often used in fantasy settings like D&D as a way of providing characters with non-magical weapons and useful items. This painting from the 17th Century gives a much more realistic idea of what to expect when entering the world of the Alchemist.
Looking around this painting there are many items that could be incorporated into the description of an alchemists lab. Vessels of many different sizes, glass jars, scales and weights. All in all more interesting than the stereotypical smoke shrouded, wild eyed eccentric of most fantasy games.
Indeed, the seperation of science and alchemy was a late development. I believe that Newton was an alchemist, although we remember him as a mathematician and physicist.
I found this interesting because I work for a company that offers laboratory services to the Petrochemicals industry. I'm not a lab technician myself but I recognise most of these methods as services we offer (in one form or another) to our clients.ReplyDelete