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Just as with Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle also was a long way from being the no-nonsense scientist disdainful of occult knowledge. Far from being the ultimate debunker of alchemy, as modern scientific historians would have you believe, he was a fervent practicioner of it.

In letters dated 1646 and 1647 he speaks repeatedly of a mysterious "Invisible College," that seems to be referring to some sort of Masonic society. He says in one letter that "the cornerstones of the Invisible or (as they term themselves) the Philosophical College, do now and then honor me with their company."

At the time he established himself at Oxford around 1654, his two closest friends were John Locke and Isaac Newton. He is said to have taught Newton the secrets of alchemy, and the two met regularly to discuss alchemy and study works on the subject. Boyle also wrote many letters with mysterious correspondents on the European continent, which dealt extensively with alchemy and alchemical experimentation. Some of them speak of Boyle's membership in a Hermetic secret society which included the duke of Savoy and Pierre du Moulin. This makes the conjecture that he may actually have been one of the Grand Masters of the Prieure de Sion at one time more plausible than it first seems.

Between 1675 and 1677 Boyle published two ambitious books on alchemical subjects: Incalescence of Quicksilver with Gold and A Historical Account of a Degradation of Gold. In 1689 he published an official notice that said that he would be unable to receive visitors on certain days he had set aside for alchemical experimentation. He explained that this experimentation was to

...comply with my former intention to leave a kind of Hermetic legacy to the studious disciples of that art and to deliver candidly in the annexed paper some processes, chemical and medical, that are less simple and plain than those barely luciferous ones that I have been wont to affect and of a more difficult and elaborate kind than those I have hitherto published and more of a kind to the noblest Hermetic secrets or as Helmont styles them, "arcana majora."

He says that he was, sadly, unfortunately unable to speak as plainly as he can about these matters, because, "in spite of my philanthropy, I was engaged to secrecy."

The annexed paper mentioned above was never found. It most likely passed into the hands of Isaac Newton. On his death in 1691 Newton and Locke inherited most of his papers and correspondence, as well as a mysterious "red powder" that figured prominently in many of his letters and notes on experiments in alchemy.

Philosopher, Chemist, Physicist, Alchemist, Pious, all these describe Robert Boyle, yet none do him justice. An excellent writer and theologian, Boyle got bitten by the "experimental bug" and decided to put his money, and his devotion, into experimental science, while still keeping his faith in God.

Robert Boyle was born on January 25, 1627, in Lismore Castle, in Ireland. The 14th child of Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork, Robert grew up as part of the aristocracy. A christian by birth, Boyle's faith in god was heightened during a thunderstorm while he was living with a Mr. W. Douch. He claimed that the lightning and thunder caused him to experience a "religious conversion not unlike that of St. Paul."1 Robert later studied briefly at Eton, with other children from wealthy families. However, Boyle left the school, and instead traveled through Switzerland, Italy and France with his tutor and older brother Francis. With his tutor he studied philosophy, theology, several different languages, mathematics and the then modern physics of Francis Bacon, Descartes and Galileo.

In 1644 he returned to England and settled into one of his late father's estates at Stalbridge in Dorset. Here, he spent his time writing, while he lived with one of his sisters. She would take care of him and keep the house in shape while Boyle delved into the "soft sciences," such as philosophy, Christianity and religion in general. For most of 1649, Boyle kept trying to get a furnace installed into his home so he could experiment in chemistry and physics. When the lab was finally set up near the end of 1649, his writings changed to show his new-found enthusiasm for experimental knowledge.

Either in late 1655 or early 1656 Robert Boyle moved again, this time to Oxford University. Here he joined a small group of England's brightest scientists, mathematicians, philosophers and physicians. In 1662 the group was officially chartered and dubbed The Royal Society. In 1680, Robert Boyle was elected president of the group, but declined the honor, stating his religion would not allow him to do so. He spent his time at Oxford continuing to write several essays as well as experimental results. This is important because it went against the alchemist idea of secrecy. All of his works at this time were written in English, but several were translated into Latin so they could be read by more people of different cultures.

Robert Boyle died on December 30, 1691 in London, England. He was buried at the Church of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields next to one of his sisters. The church was later demolished and there is no record as to where his corpse was moved.

One of Boyle's most important works was The Spring and Weight of the Air, published in 1660, and again in 1662. The first publishing conveyed his and his assistant's new idea for a vacuum pump. Boyle's pump could easily be operated by just one man, as opposed to the one designed by Von Guericke, whose pump needed two men to be operated and produced soem questionable results. Boyle used his pump to show that air was necessary for the movement of sound, as well as fire and the sustenance of life. The second publishing contained Boyle's famous experiment, the one that proved PV = k, also known as Boyle's Law. To conduct this experiment, Boyle made a very large J-shaped piece of glass tubing, which contained Mercury, and a trapped air pocket in the lip of the J, as shown in the bad ascii below.

                                     |   |
                       _____         |   |
                       |air|         |~~~|
                       |   |         |   | 
                       |~~~|         |   |
                       |   |_________|   |
                       |       Mercury   |
                       |_________________|

Boyle took measurements of the air pockets in varying degrees of pressure, both above and below the normal atmospheric level. He come up with PV=k, where P is the pressure, V is the volume and K is a constant. This is very useful because with this law, if one knows the volume and pressure of one contained gas, and all the gas is pumped into a new container, the pressure can be found, as P1V1 = k = P2V2. Or if you have a gas in one container, and need to find the volume of a container for a required pressure . However, Boyle thought this would only be true with mixed air, the same kind we're breathing now, as opposed to every gas.

Bibliography

New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Spring of Air and its Effects (1660)
Certain Physiological Essays (1661)
The Sceptical Chymist (1661)
Some Considerations touching the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy (1663, 1671)
Experiments and Considerations touching Colours (1664)
New Experiments and Observations touching Cold (1665)
Hydrostatical Paradoxes (1666)
The Origin of Forms and Qualities (1666)
Of the Systematical or Cosmical Qualities of Things (1671)
Excellency of Theology, Compar'd with Natural Philosophy (1674)
Experiments, Notes, &c., about the Mechanical Origin or Production of Divers Particular Qualities (1675)
Discourse of Things above Reason (1681)
Experiments and Considerations about the Porosity of Bodies (1684)
Memoirs for the Natural History of Human Blood (1684)
Of the Reconcileableness of Specifick Medicines to the Corpuscular Philosophy (1685)
Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Receiv'd Notion of Nature (1686)
Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688)
The Christian Virtuoso (1690)
Medicina Hydrostatica (1690)
Experimenta & Observationes Physicae (1691)

Sources:
http://www.woodrow.org/teachers/chemistry/institutes/1992/Boyle.html
http://es.rice.edu/ES/humsoc/Galileo/Catalog/Files/boyle.html
http://www.bbk.ac.uk/boyle/biog.html
http://www.chemheritage.org/EducationalServices/chemach/fore/rb.html
http://dbhs.wvusd.k12.ca.us/GasLaw/Gas-Boyle-Data.html

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