The discovery of phosphorus.

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Table of Contents
  • “Phosphorus is a chemical element with the symbol P and atomic number 15. Elemental phosphorus exists in two major forms, white phosphorus and red phosphorus, but because it is highly reactive, phosphorus is never found as a free element on Earth.”[1]

The German merchant, pharmacist and alchemist Hennig Brand discovered phosphorus accidentally in 1669 when he was trying to produce gold from urine. Here is the method[2] he employed: 

  • First, urine was boiled to reduce it to a thick syrup.
  • The syrup was heated until a red oil distilled up from it, which was then drawn off.
  • Once the syrup was cooled, it consisted of a black spongy upper part and a salty lower part.
  • The salt was discarded and the red oil was introduced back into the black material.
  • White fumes of phosphorus were released which was then passed under cold water in order for it to condense and solidify. This process was done with the help of a retort.

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Here is a painting[4] depicting Hennig Brand (the glow of the phosphorus is exaggerated):

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(1630 – c.1692 or c.1710)