Friday, September 15

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Hennig Brand and his work with urine

by Staff writer



Centuries ago, the field of alchemy flourished.

It is an early, unscientific form of chemistry that sought to change base metals into gold and discover a life-prolonging elixir, a universal cure for disease, and a universal solvent.


Hennig Brand was born in 1630 in Hamburg, Germany. While young he was an apprentice glassmaker. He then married a wealthy woman, so he was able to quit glassmaking and to start a career as an alchemist.

His main ambition was to discover the Philosopher’s Stone (a legendary alchemical substance that could turn base metals into gold).

While he was trying to discover the Philosopher’s Stone, he spent a lot of money and didn’t make any profit.

Later his wife died and he got married again. His second wife was also wealthy, so he was now able to build a lab and to continue his work again.

In 1669, the German alchemist noticed that urine and gold were basically the same color, so he thought that there was a possibility that urine could contain the precious metal.

He started collecting and storing urine, mostly from his wife and her friends.

It’s thought that he managed to collect around 1500 gallons of urine over the course of his experiments.

Brand let the urine stand for days until it gave off a terrible smell.

Hennig Brand then tried to boil some of the urine in a vat until it was a thick, syrup-like substance. This substance was glowing red-hot.

After that, the substance hardened, cooled and turned black.

He mixed the black part with the red syrup and continued heating.

In the end, he distilled it and then it burst into flames.

Hennig Brand was as shocked by the strange result as he was disappointed.

Brand named the new discovery phosphorus mirabilis, from the Greek word for “miraculous bearer of light", because the white material glowed in the dark and burned brilliantly.

But what Brand didn’t know at that time was that he had only discovered phosphorus, one of the most important elements now known.

He didn’t tell anyone about his discovery for six years because he thought that people would steal it from him.

He made even more experiments but after six years he realized that he didn’t discover the philosopher’s stone, but something else that was unknown and strange to him.

Brand later sold the recipe for 200 thalers to a man called D Krafft from Dresden who toured much of Europe with it.

Hennig Brand later died in 1710.

It is now known that the phosphorus compound Brand produced then was ammonium sodium hydrogen phosphate, (NH4)NaHPO4, now called the microcosmic salt.

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