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John Emsley

The Shocking History of Phosphorus

Hay Festival 2000, 
The Rhone-Poulenc Prizewinner introduces his stunning history of this most bizarre and savage element. Newton discovered that boiling down vast quantities of urine produced small quantities of pure white phosphorus. In liquid or solid form, this then gave off an intense light that lasted for days and caused amazement. Newton, Boyle and Leibniz believed that in phosphorus they had found one of the secret substances along the road to producing the 'philosopher's stone', the goal of all alchemy, which could prolong life and turn base metal to gold.