Why you would take this class if you are interested in Chemistry?


In the 16th century, a total of 8 metals were known. The atomistic construction of matter was not really understood, with the exception of some emerging references to ideas of Democritus in the second half of that century.

The time period of the early mines is one in which the rather academic pursuit of Natural Philosophy, mainly exercised through the study of the antique masters such as Aristotle, had to develop into applied science, following the demands and needs of mining industries. The 16th century in Europe brought with it an onslaught of early scientific works, based on experience, measurement and observation, following rules of prediction and correction, much as we do today. Our two main references, Georgius Agricola (1494 - 1555) and Lazarus Ercker (1530 - 1594), belong into the ranks of the fathers of chemistry.

Ore processing methods were developed and documented that use substitution, redox reactions, complex formation and many other now well-understood chemical reactions. The beginnings of modern chemistry will familiarize us with separation methods such as liquation and cupellation (which involve the separation by melting a Ag/Pb alloy out of a Cu/Ag/Pb alloy), and amalgamation; with analysis methods for silver content in alloys; with the roasting and leaching of ores and many others. We will see smelters and ore processing sites of the time which will illustrate many of the challenges of early metallurgical chemistry and the underlying chemistry.


Saigerhütte Olbernhau, analysis instruments and cupellation oven for the separation of silver and lead


Freiberg is the home of Clemens Alexander Winkler (1838-1904), who discovered the chemical element Germanium in Schneeberger ore in 1886, and thus illustrated the utility of Mendeleyev’s periodic table of elements. He also worked diligently on the analysis and treatment of smelter smoke and can be viewed as one of the fathers of modern environmental chemistry.  His laboratory belongs to the Bergakademie Freiberg, but can be visited.


Kevin Boyd in Winkler’s lab in Freiberg in the Brennhausgasse

You may also choose to visit Jachymov (Joachimsthal), in the Bohemian (Czech) Erzegibirge.  Here Pierre and Marie Curie studied the radiation coming from pitchblende (uranium ore).  From their analysis of the radiative decay, they were able to identify the elements radium and polonium, and then isolate these two elements.

And then, of course, there are the of minerals and ores, examples of compounds found in nature which often present themselves in spectacular fashion.  Of particular interest is fluorite, which was first referred to by that name in a published work by Agricola (it was used as a flux, to help molten metals flow; most soldering fluxes still contain fluorides).  This mineral later gave its name to both fluorine and the phenomenon of fluorescence (which we will observe in many minerals).


Mineralogical Collection of Bergakademie Freiberg; fluorite


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