Skip to main content

LabDivisionJoseph Wright
The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone Discovers Phosphorus

"More than 300 years ago, in 1669, Hennig Brand, a Hamburg alchemist, like most chemists of his day, was trying to make gold. He let urine stand for days in a tub until it putrified. Then he boiled it down to a paste, heated this paste to a high temperature, and drew the vapours into water where they could condense - to gold. To his surprise and disappointment, however, he obtained instead a white, waxy substance that glowed in the dark. Brand had discovered phosphorus, the first element isolated other than the metals and non-metals, such as gold, lead and sulphur, that were known to the ancient civilizations. The word phosphorus comes from the Greek and means light bearer."

A.D.F. Toy and E.N. Walsh, Phosphorus chemistry in everyday living, 2nd. ed. (Washington: ACS, 1987)