The chemical industry has reshaped the modern world – giving us new fuels, drugs and materials. But the methodology and principles of chemistry go back over a thousand years.
Between the 9th and 14th centuries, there was a Golden Age of Science when scholars from the Islamic world, like Jabir Ibn Hayyan and Al-Razi, introduced a rigorous experimental approach that laid the foundations for the modern scientific method.
In this episode of Science in a Golden Age, theoretical physicist Jim al-Khalili leads us on an exploration of just how these scientists began the process of transforming the superstition of alchemy into the science of chemistry.
He begins by unpicking the medieval obsession with alchemy – the effort to turn common, less valuable metals into gold. He looks into the work of Jabir Ibn Hayyan, a polymath who grew up in modern-day Iran and who is credited with applying an experimental-based approach to early chemistry.
Through his determined efforts to dissolve and transform metals, Ibn Hayyan learnt much about acids. Together with Professor Hal Sosabowski from the University of Brighton, Jim looks at the reaction of gold with aqua regia – a powerful combination of acids that Ibn Hayyan discovered.