The Chymistry of Isaac Newton project

Isaac Newton, portraitThe Chymistry of Isaac Newton project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and in partnership with the Othmer Library in Philadelphia, and the Indiana University Digital Library Program, is providing online access to all of the chemical and alchemical manuscripts of Isaac Newton. As the project home page explains,

“Newton wrote and transcribed about a million words on the subject of alchemy, of which only a tiny fraction has today been published.”

Newton’s chemistry was central to his scientific work, and not peripheral to his investigations in optics and mathematical physics.

In this project, Newton’s manuscripts are being interlinked with a comprehensive library of printed chemical and alchemical sources in the western tradition reaching far beyond Newton himself.

The site offers important research tools, including an alchemical font, a list of alchemical symbols, a glossary of alchemical terms, and a user-friendly version of Newton’s Index Chymicus manuscript.

Project editors and consultants include William R. Newman, James Voelkel, John A. Walsh, Dot Porter, Lawrence M. Principe, Cathrine Reck, Kirk Hess, and Wallace Hooper, among others.

Check out a description of latent semantic analysis methodologies (large poster pdf) being developed for this project by Wally Hooper and John Walsh. These tools will be made available to other projects in the Digital HPS consortium.

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The OU History of Science Collections hold first editions of all of Newton’s works, including the Principia (1687), Opticks (1704), Fluxions (1740), Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms (1728), and the Observations upon the prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John (1733), as well as other early editions of these works and over 150 later editions.

The OU History of Science Collections also hold many rare works in the history of early chemistry, such as De alchemia of Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber; 1541), a fundamental text that Newton himself read in later editions.

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Kerry Magruder, Curator; and JoAnn Palmeri, Librarian
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