Secrets of Alchemy

a pyramid among gold

Photo illustration by Mark Riechers. Original images by Michael Dziedzic (CC0), Peter Olexa (CC0), and Joshua Sortino (CC0)

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Original Air Date: 
September 19, 2020

Once upon a time, science and magic were two sides of the same coin. Today, we learn science in school and save magic for children’s books. What if it were different? What would it be like to see the world as an alchemist?

pyramid
Audio

Alchemists believed that if they could transform matter, why not also the spirit, or the self? That last part is what’s attracting new followers today, like Sara Durn.

Length: 
8:41
alchemical recipes
Articles

Pamela Smith's science history students spend a semester taking medieval alchemical recipes and re-creating them in a lab.

Length: 
11:02
Isaac Newton
Articles

Isaac Newton wrote more than a million words on alchemy over his lifetime, conducting decades of alchemical experiments. But he did it all in secret. Why? The question fascinates historian Bill Newman.

Length: 
10:58
"The most important colour in alchemy was red. It was a symbol of life, blood and the Sun."
Audio

Alchemy left its mark on Prague — and on our producer, Charles Monroe-Kane, who lived there as a young man. He says the Czechs are still uncovering alchemical secrets.

Length: 
6:03
crystal meth
Audio

When anthropologist Jason Pine traveled to rural Missouri, he wound up spending a lot of time observing underground meth labs. And he came to a startling conclusion: that the meth cooks of the Ozarks are today’s alchemists.

Length: 
12:31
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Last modified: 
October 20, 2020