The word ‘alchemist’ is derived from the Arabic expression al-Kimiya. Alchemy is supposed to be the technique of transmuting base metals — such as lead and mercury — into silver and gold by the philosopher’s stone, a hypothetical substance. Many stories and myths surround the alchemists of Europe and Middle East. Of course, they did not work magic, but relied on various experiments to produce precious metals. To achieve this grandiose aim, they tried to discover the properties of substances and understand their composition in order to manipulate them. Their interest lied mainly in transformation of metals.
Although they were dedicated investigators, for nearly 2,000 years they made virtually no progress in their efforts to comprehend the ways in which various substances are related. Nor did they know the internal composition of matter — much less realizing the fact that in the periodic table of chemical elements, the difference is only that of one proton. Eventually and inevitably, the alchemists failed and were jeered at in consequence. However, their efforts were not entirely fruitless, because they unwittingly contributed to the advancement of chemistry in a big way. In the process of their alchemy experiments, they discovered strong acids like hydrochloric acid, nitric acid and sulfuric acid. These substances are many times more useful than gold could possibly be. Remove these acids from the industrial scene, and most industries would cease to exist. Yet, no credit is given to the medieval alchemists for their invaluable contribution to chemistry.