“What is out there? How did we get here? What is the world made of?”
The ideas, achievements, and results of science are all human endeavors; built in our search to answer questions about what makes up everything in the world. “The Story of Science” is a series that attempts to explain this concept. It shows us a story that moves from the debunked theories of the Greeks and the crazy assumptions of the alchemists in their secret laboratories to the understanding of atoms and its subatomic particles and onto the inventions that has had significant impacts on humanity. Likewise, “The Story of Science” is a human endeavor in proof, power, and passion.
Alchemy is mainly concerned with the attempts of converting base metals such as lead into gold, the purest metal. A process termed as transmutation. Hennig Brand, an alchemist, theorized that the philosopher’s stone, a substance that reputedly turned base metals into gold, will be extracted from human urine. However, the philosopher’s stone was never found in his experiment, but it produced an element called Phosphorus.
Another scientist in the history of science was philosopher Joseph Priestly. He studied air by heating different substances. One example is red calx or mercuric oxide. In his experiment, mercury turned into a shiny metal and the rest were good air with fiery properties. This air was later named as Oxygen by Antoine Lavoisier. Antoine Lavoisier is a monarch who also discovered another air which is Hydrogen. But unlike Oxygen, it is inflammable. It was obtained after breaking apart Hydrogen and Oxygen from water.
One important process explained in the Story of Science was electrolysis. It is a process that splits a substance by passing an electric current. Through the electrolysis of potash, performed by the chemist and poet Humphry Davy, he was able to get the element Potassium.
Aside from the discoveries of some elements, the Story of Science also gave proof on the atomic structure. The idea of electrons was first shown by William Crooke’s model or Crooke’s Tube which apparently was not convincing as compared to Joseph John Thomson’s Cathode Ray Tube Experiment. JJ Thomson accurately and delicately explained that electrons made the tube glow and the paddle wheel to spin in the tube.
More importantly, these bodies of knowledge have generated change in the world. The alchemists contributed the use of intricate laboratory tools and equipment. The roots of a scientific investigation lie in their secret laboratories. Hennig Brand’s discovery of Phosphorus is used to make matches. Furthermore, Lavoisier did Priestly’s experiment in reverse order and found out that after combining the shiny metal and the good air, the red calx or mercuric oxide was again formed exactly the same as before. This is a fundamental concept that we have today – the law of conservation of energy. Moreover, the discovery of Hydrogen has brought about hot air balloons, which encouraged Napoleon to create a military of it. It is thirteen times lighter than normal air, less dangerous, has huge lifting power, and therefore, it is powerful in today’s society.
The best defense for malaria was also discovered in the history of science. The quinine in the bark of the cinchona tree is the key ingredient against the disease. Because of the failed attempt at the synthesis of quinine, William Perkin was able to create the dye. The production of dye became massive and for that, William Perkin is known as the father of industrial chemistry. Other industrial chemists, on the other hand, have worked out on ammonia which is essential in artificial fertilizers which help in sustaining the global population.
The invention of valves and its evolution to transistors and finally to the microprocessors that we have today were also told in the Story of Science. These inventions came into power because of the understanding of the quantum theory or how electrons behave. Valves, transistors, and microprocessors are used to control the flow of electrons; it amplifies electrical signals in radios, televisions, telephones, etc.
Though scientists of the history of science had different inventions or even contradicting perspectives such as Niels Bohr’s and Albert Einstein’s, I believe that they all had one thing in common: Passion. A passion for discovering new things from strange and unbelievable concepts. A passion that lead to the spawn of technological advancements. Even though alchemists were described as crazy for their idea of transforming lead into gold, their works have also helped shape the world. Their ideas, achievements, and results were built on their strong sense of enthusiasm and determination to answer questions about what makes up everything in the world. Though the quest they had may seem abstract and theoretical in most cases, it has had the greatest impact on humanity.