Alchemy: History of Science #10

In fantasy stories, charlatans in fancy robes promise to turn lead into gold. But real alchemists weren’t just mystical misers. They were skilled experimentalists, backed by theories of matter.
And they played a huge role in the development of knowledge about one of our fundamental questions: “what is stuff?”


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CC Kids:
  • Awsamazing Eden

    I cannot be the only one thinking of Fullmetal Alchemist right now.

  • Taneth

    When I was 4, I tried to unburn a slice of toast by putting it in the fridge. I ended up with cold burned toast. Alchemy!

  • Scara Dikov

    Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world's one, and only truth.

  • Mario U Comics and Cartoons

    I'm just here for all the anime related comments

  • Graser1112

    Real talk though, this video just made me appreciate how much research Arakawa put into FMA. Like, one of the big alchemy guy's names having "von Hohenheim" in it. That same guy coining "Alkahest." Chinese alchemy being based on "Earth magic." God bless Hiromu Arakawa.

  • Twitchy Eyebrows

    Guess I'm early, time to make an FMA joke about fusing a child and her dog together to make a chimera

  • Dinonid123

    About 35% of these comments are gonna be FMA jokes. It’s just a consequence of even mentioning alchemy. Anyway the ingredient to a philosopher’s stone is human souls there’s your reference, thank you.

  • priyanshu pradhan

    thanks for the FMA reference and not for the nina reference

  • Sergio Bobillier

    Is a shame that the only reference to Fullmetal Alchemist was the tiny animation of Nina and her dog.

  • Nathan Platt

    "Good thing today we have the internet to help everyone agree on scientific questions based on evidence...Right?" .....Hehe you funny host you. lol

  • Paul Loken

    Poor Nina and Alexander

  • Darth Savage

    I shed a tear when I saw Nina & Alexander

  • SophieHatterLeFay

    Edward Elric is still my favorite Alchemist in history

  • Basketball Propaganda


  • ngneer999

    Why don't you mention modern Alchemy. Every plutonium atom is transmuted from Uranium. In my field of semiconductor materials high purity silicon is exposed to neutrons to produce transmuted phosphorous which is evenly distributed throughout the ingot. (process known as Neutron Transmutation Doping or NTD). Alchemy lives.

  • Mike Kuppen

    "Decknamen" is German for pseudonym.

  • DagarCoH

    Just another interesting alchemy story: Johann Böttger claimed to be able to make lead into gold. In 1701 he was incarcerated by the king of saxony for that claim; since the king was short on money Böttger should prove it. He tried to flee several times, but in the end managed to make porcelain (or at least aided in it; some claim Tschirnhaus, a contemporary and colleague of Böttger actually made it, and Tschirnhaus also was the one who had been researching on porcelain for a long time before). After confessing to the king that he was unable to make gold (another alchemist had been executed in Prussia for the false claim) and after Tschirnhaus' death, Böttger got a management position in the newly founded and soon to be famous porcelain manufactory in Meissen. In the end, he regained his full freedom after 13 years of incarceration.

  • Alex Fairchild

    FMA reference 😀&😢 at the same time!

  • Tran Jeremy

    I see Nina and Alexander. Well played Crash Course.... Well played.

  • MegaZeroX7

    "We eat stuff that is not at all human"You don't know me!

  • Patrick Reding

    Of course, the real philosophers' stone turned out to be the particle accelerator.

  • Faux Synder

    I was hoping to see an FMA reference and I was not disappointed. But what was chosen=instant regret D: Super awesome video guys!

  • Lili-chan

    All I can think of is Fullmetal Alchemist.

  • Naman Singh Negi

    "Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world's one, and only truth."

  • Albert Lopez

    I was hoping to hear about homunculi and the law of equilavent exchange

  • FajerJ

    In my opinion alchemy is more of a spiritual understanding than a written knowledge I have to say I didn't read a lot of books concerning alchemy but most of my knowledge about it is from the stories I've heard growing up the man who turned sand into gold the man who stole the written recipe and the man who burned it if you are middle eastern you probably heard it 😂😂 we have hands down the best folklore out there

  • AL Y

    trying not to think of fullmetal alchemist

  • Julio Toboso García

    Why did you have to put the little girl and the dog?!?! 🐶 👧🏼

  • RedRibbonZX

    Let's talk about philosopher's stone and homunculus next.

  • Eli Estephan

    dude, after watching this, it is so cool how many real world historical elements were implemented in fmab. I gotta watch that anime again

  • Nehal Jain

    I thought he'd address Paulo Coelho, the writer who wrote the book "the Alchemist" coz I loved that book..

  • SuicideBunny6

    "Humankind can not gain anything, without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is Alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange."

  • That Ginger Kid

    All your soul are belong to us

  • bassontreble

    The video states that Gutenberg was born in 1468. This is the year of his death. He developed his method of printing was developed in the 1450s.

  • Penny Lane

    So you're saying keeping the useful results to yourself while encouraging your colleagues to try the stupid stuff like transmutation and burned-frozen zombie leaves is not an effective setup to build a system of knowledge? Well thank God for peer review and publicly funded science then I guess.

  • xspager

    Transmutation of elements is real, every sigle star at least turn Hydrogen into Helium, you could do yourself too, all it takes is a nuclear reactor.

  • magister343

    I remember reading the Wikipedia entry of alchemy years ago and finding that Chinese alchemy was focused on producing cheese. The first few paragraphs sounded sort of plausible, but then it descended into total nonsense and eventually just repeated the line "CHEESE Cheese CHEESE CHEESE cheese CHEESE CHEESE cheese CHEESE!!!"

  • Alipasha Sadri

    You missed the law of equivalent exchange!

  • Ravenpotter

    Edward Elric is short.(Ed please don't kill me (FMA joke))

  • yukido

    Hello there! "Decknamen" is actually a german compound (hehe) word.Meaning "deck" as in to cover (something up) and "namen" as in... well, names.So, Decknamen are "cover names". Words covering up their true meaning.Also, I love your videos! <3EDIT: Source: I'm german :-)


    Wow. Turns out edward elric's father was the most succesful alchemist in histort.

  • Ulises Cabrera

    Fullmetal Alchemist was in the back of my head the whole entire video. and when Hohenheim was mentioned i had a literal epiphany moment

  • WeiYinChan

    Interesting how all of these ideas are incorporated into fullmetal alchemist

  • Jalawi Bin Saud

    Alchemy from the arabic word for chemistry (AlKimya) الكيمياء and the original Arabic meaning of it is slick or smart Or brilliant turning thing to different things is smart that’s why they called it (Kimiya, Al Kimiya), I find it a bit odd for your channel not to disclose this piece of information🤔 which is pretty easy. And most of the documents that are preserved today from that era proof what I’m saying.If you want the exact documents I’ll happy to send it to you (be advised it’s in arabic so you need a translator)🙄

  • Emma J

    We cannot forget the most esteemed alchemist of all time: Edward Elric, the FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST 😤😤😤

  • Cuzican Aerospace

    There are modern alchemists, although they tend to be linked to mystical organizations. Israel Regardie, a popularizer of the British occult society, The Golden Dawn, had his own alchemy lab and had students along with alchemist networking contacts. FWIW, I'm not saying that as an endorsement, but only to point out that it isn't fully dead, just really obscure. I'm comforted to know that we actually know how to transmute elements -- provided you can get enough energy to slam nuclei together hard enough to fuse. Not exactly practical for creating gold, or anything else except for, you know, plutonium. ahem

  • Gravijta

    Seriously, what is the relationship between Complexly and PBS Digital Studios? Did PBSDS pick up a few Complexly Channels as a part of a network? I need to know!

  • Cythil

    Did not know Alchemy had a bad rep today. I always though of it more a transitional science (or proto science if you wish). Sure. I see a lot of people that do not know what Alchemy is really about. But even these people generally do not scoff at it. Maybe some people view it as just a hopeless endeavor to turn lead in to gold. But I do not find this that common. (Also. Anyone that think that is impossible clearly have not studied nuclear physics enough. )

  • xenoneo

    Alchemy is so misunderstood, even by some of it's practitioners. BTW, the whole 'gold into lead' thing was an allegory to, self improvement, in a manner of speaking. Later on, it was unfortunately taken literally. That old 'gold into lead' thing really does the roots of our current science a disservice.

  • [ D_wang ]

    Incoming Fullmetal Alchemist References

  • Feynstein 100

    Although, if fusion becomes possible and economical, we will actually be able to convert lead into gold. Perhaps the alchemists were only about 500 years ahead of their time :P

  • GlitchKing

    TIL where the weird name of "Von Hohenheim" in FMA came from

  • Ashrith G

    The Fullmetal Alchemist

  • Alvenikh Azaria

    Damn, Full metal alchemist was well researched

  • GemsAndGentsAA

    Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist was a great read in middle school !

  • Wwolframite 74

    Mercury is the Roman messager god, not Greek.

  • DangerOne

    So basically, like the Terry Pratchett book "The Truth" Guttenberg turned Lead into Gold by inventing the moveable type press lol

  • Alyssa G.

    Hank: says DecknamenMe, a German who did not expect to hear a German word in a video about Alchemy: o:

  • OmegaBlack85

    I appreciate the topic of choice, but real Alchemist are not concerned with matter (stuff). We just lie so we can do the real work. Which is metaphysics.

  • No lyfe boi

    basically alchemy is equivalent exchange

  • TheRedneckGamer1979

    nuclear chemists today know how to turn lead into gold, the problem is that it costs more than the highly radioactive isotope of gold is worth but we do know how to do it

  • Julia Bandino

    Mercury was the ROMAN messenger 3:33

  • xgozulx

    You did it again! Second time I see the nina and the dog transmutation circle in crash course

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