Daily MOS: The Golden Pursuit of Phosphorus

Making new discoveries is an arduous task that brings scientists to the top of glaciers, bottom of oceans, and even to outer space.

Sometimes, new discoveries bring you to a basement lab with thousands of gallons of fermenting piss.

Today in a Moment of Science… the golden pursuit of phosphorus.

Hennig Brand was a German alchemist in the 1600s who had but one simple pursuit befitting a man of science: to be filthy fucking rich. He married a first rich wife, and after her death, a second rich wife. What are the odds? The second wife’s money was at least invested wisely by Brand: he researched making a philosopher’s stone. As legend goes, a philosopher’s stone benefits from turning other metals into gold and suffers from being imaginary.

And how on earth was he going to make this philosopher’s stone?

Urine. Fucking bucketloads of urine.

Why urine? Being a man of science, he saw that gold was yellow and urine was yellow, and case closed, it doesn’t get any clearer than that, folks. It was also fairly common for alchemists to believe the key to unlocking life everlasting was hiding in bodily fluids.

I hear you judging, judgy mcjudgypants, but you discover any elements lately? Let the gold digging water sports guy teach you something.

In his basement lab bankrolled by his second wife, his stepson at his side as his assistant, they began collecting samples for his grand experiment. And by ‘collecting samples’ I mean ‘asking neighbors for their piss.’ To be fair, it wasn’t an altogether unusual request for the time. Urine was used for getting stains out of clothes, teeth whitening, softening leather, and just about anything else they didn’t have sorted out yet in the 1600s. Which was everything. ‘Chamber lye’ it was sometimes called, for the chamber pots it was collected in and the high ammonia content that was useful in cleaning clothes.

I’ll take my Tide pods. They’re delicious.

1,500 gallons of fermenting tinkle (my band name) later, Brand was deep in the business of making himself a philosopher’s stone. His concocted a laborious process of boiling it down to a viscous paste, and through a series of simple extractions, ended up with no philosopher’s stone, because again, it’s a fucking myth.

But from those 1,500 gallons of piss, he squeaked out 120 grams what he called phosphorus. From the Greek meaning ‘light bearer,’ it was white with a green tinted glow in the dark. Your piss becomes a glowing little center of the universe if you torture it enough.

And with that, he became the first person in modern times to discover an element. It just took one torrentially putrefied basement and a mid-sized lake of wee.

Since we were still at phase ‘all stuff is earth, air, water, and fire,’ Brand would likely never understand what he’d actually found. He also couldn’t make jack shit turn to gold. But through his greed and determination to do an absurd thing, he unearthed a piece of our world that we use in so many things, from fertilizer to matches to glow sticks.

I hope his wife forgave him for the smell.

This has been your daily Moment of Science, and a plea to remember to use the fume hoods.

Source: scibabe.com

Daily MOS: The Golden Pursuit of Phosphorus