This work was created by Dr Jamie Love and Creative Commons Licence licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
In this sample, only the first Ancient Element, AIR, is available. The other Elements, WATER, EARTH and FIRE, are included in the complete hypertextbook, and each of those Elements are about twice as long as AIR. To learn more about the course and hypertextbook, visit the Principles of Alchemy (Chemistry) website.


Version 3.3


(by Dr Jamie Love 1996-2010)

Instructions for the Hypertextbook

Learning with your Hypertextbook


Learn more about this course,
including how you can download a complete copy of this
course for FREE!




Arthur's Notes

Questions and Answers

"Do This!"

AIR Exam



Arthur's Notes

Questions and Answers

"Do This!"




Arthur's Notes

Questions and Answers

"Do This!"




Arthur's Notes

Questions and Answers

"Do This!"



Successfully complete the Final Exam and you will be awarded
your Diploma and the title of "Apprentice Alchemist"!

Hypertextbook Instructions

Your Computer Screen, Browser and RAM

This hypertextbook uses "extended markup", the language of the Internet.

A full color screen works best. When the screen resolution is set at 800X600, and your browser's standard configuration is used, the images will align cleanly with the text and everything will fit neatly on the screen. Lower resolution or a gray scale screen are OK, but the images won't be as nice.

Maximize your browser's window. Use the "Options" on your browser to close all Toolbars, Location Boxes and Directory Buttons. Do whatever you can to present on your screen as much of your hypertextbook as possible. That way you'll be able to see the text and relevant image(s) without having to scroll up and down.

This book works well on machines with only 8Mb of RAM.

Self Evaluation Exam/Tests

Merlin's exams WILL NOT WORK if your JavaScript is OFF. Most people surf the web with JavaScript "on" - that is - JavaScript "enabled". Only the most paranoid surfer refuses to run JavaScript. (JavaScript is NOT java or cookies.) Your browser's JavaScript must be enabled in order to give feedback and score the exams.
Click this button to see if your javascript is working.
If you did NOT get a "JavaScript alert box" pop up when you clicked that button, your JavaScript is not enabled and you cannot take the exams. How do you turn JavaScript on? Well that depends on your browser but it is usually somewhere in the Preferences or Security settings. Poke around and enable your browser's JavaScript, test it on that link and then you will be ready for the exam.

Surfing Alchemy

Surfing your hypertextbook off-line is very much like surfing the Web on-line. Most of the features you use on-line can be used off-line. Be sure the entire page has loaded before trying one of the hyperlinks. Also, be sure your browser is set up to load images automatically.

From this Title Page (alchemy1.htm) you can hyperlink to any section. You can return to the Title Page later by using the "Back" or "Go To" function in the "History" files of your browser.

One great advantage of an HTML book is the use of the "Find" function on your browser. If you want to review that "stuff about atomic mass", just use "Find" to leap to any occurrence of the words "atomic mass". "Find" works for all parts of the hypertextbook, but it only finds the word(s) on one particular hyperpage (*.htm). Your hypertextbook is not a continuous hyperpage because your system would require a lot of RAM to hold it all. Instead, the book is divided into dozens of "chapters" (htm files) with hyperlinks to help you move among them. So, if you can't find a word on one hyperpage, try other hyperpages.

Learning with your Hypertextbook


Principles of Alchemy is designed as a self-paced, self-learning program. Some students can complete the program in a month while others may need half a year. A great deal depends on your abilities and the time you devote to the course.
Learning is not a race to be won. It's an adventure to be enjoyed.

A great deal of time will be spent at the computer while you study with your hypertextbook so it is important to be comfortable.
Sit correctly. (Sit up!) Not too far back or too far forward.
Shift the position of your legs and your bottom every now and then. Maybe take a full stretch. If you get tired, take a break.
Support the weight of your arms as you work the mouse or keyboard and write your notes.
The yellow background color is meant to keep your attention but some folks find it too bright. Adjust the brightness and contrast on your screen to give you a comfortable view.
Do what you must to get glare and reflections off the screen.

The hypertextbook is NOT designed to be printed out. Indeed, it would amount to several hundred pages if it were!
I can offer you no advice on printing these pages and suggest you don't bother trying.

Getting the most from Principles of Alchemy

The course is divided into four sections named after the four Ancient Elements.
Math is unavoidable in Alchemy but in this course it is limited to the four basic functions - mostly addition and subtraction, but also a wee bit of multiplication and simple division helps.

Here's a preview of what to expect and some details to help you understand what parts are the hardest and will require more work.

You start with AIR, which introduces you to atoms. The part about half-lives includes a wee bit of math but you should be able to handle it if you work carefully. The section on electrons includes a great deal of detail about atomic size and shape. This is important information and will be used throughout the course. It isn't "easy" but you can learn it by imagining the electron behavior as a "puzzle" to solve. Once you have finished AIR you can take pride in the fact that you have a useful knowledge of quantum mechanics, probably one of the most exciting and amazing discoveries in science!

WATER teaches you about molecules. It is very descriptive and it is important that you learn the various ways atoms are linked into molecules as well as how molecules interact. The section on VSEPR theory is the most difficult part. It is not important to grasp all the details of VSEPR theory, but I have included detailed explanations and some VSEPR "puzzles" to show you how they can be understood.

EARTH puts Alchemy into perspective using the Periodic Table. The first half explains how the various elements (atoms) compare to each other and how the Table is used to learn and predict trends in element behavior. The second half teaches you about the properties of some of the most common elements and acts as a "tour" of elements. We will also return to orbitals and shells so you can see how the Table is constructed around these concepts. The Question and Answer section of Earth is particularly long because information from all three sections comes together here.

The last Ancient Element, FIRE, is all about chemical reactions. The part about equilibrium, as well as most of this Ancient Element, could be better described using a lot of math, but I have avoided that kind of detail. The parts most students find most difficult involve balancing equations and redox. It is VERY important to understand these ideas so I will show you, step by step, how to balance and understand chemical equations. There is a long section in the Questions and Answers, mostly discussing air pollution, where you will practice balancing equations and I will show you some "tricks" that I use.

Do not skip ahead to other elements until you've covered all of the previous ones.
The first Ancient Element, AIR, is about half the size of the other three Ancient Elements. This is intended to get you use to the program and give you a feeling of accomplishment. The remaining Ancient Elements will take longer and require more work, so pace yourself accordingly.

You should NOT simply "read and page down, read and page down, etc.". This is far too passive a way to learn (anything).
Get yourself a nice blank notebook. (A real one, with paper!) Jot down important points with pencil or pen in one hand, as your other hand works the mouse or keyboard. I believe learning is aided by the repetition of short phrases in your mind as your eyes move from screen to notebook. Writing these notes exercises your memory.
Your notebook will become increasingly valuable as the course goes on. You can review your Alchemy notes while traveling, before bed, or relaxing outside in the fresh air.

This course was developed with feedback from students and teachers, some of whom asked that I include more advanced material while continuing to keep the math to a minimum. I have done so and you may notice that the last part of each Element is more complicated and detailed than the rest. I hope you will not become disenchanted with the course just because the going gets difficult. Take your time with these difficult sections. Do not give up. If you cannot follow along with the logic presented do not despair. Continue to read it and think of it as a description of how Alchemy works rather than information to be completely understood. Naturally, if you master the difficult parts and understand them you will get more out of Alchemy.

Think of this course as a trail over four mountains, each mountain an Ancient Element.

If you get lost or tired take a break. Come back to it later when you are refreshed and start a few pages back so you'll have an idea of the path ahead and will be less likely to get lost.

Sometimes the trail is steep, particularly near the peaks, but if you persevere you will make it and your view of Alchemy will be clearer and more satisfying than if you had taken a short-cut around the mountains. Once you have completed a climb (Element) give yourself a pat on the back and think about all that you have learned.

Each Ancient Element starts with the Dialogue. This section is long and NOT intended to be read from beginning to end, all in one go! Instead you are encouraged to read as much as you want and then stop when you feel like it. NEVER over read, especially on a computer. You may want to end your reading at one of the "dragon pairs" that cut across the page because that is where the dialogue changes topics.

Notice there are no page numbers to use as a location. Instead of remembering the page where you left off, you must choose (at the beginning of each section) where to start again, based on your memory of the subject. That way you have the opportunity to think back to what you really remember about Alchemy - instead of just remembering "to start at page 28".
Hyperlink to the section you last remember well or wish to review.

Take your time reading this material.
There is a lot in the Dialogue and you will miss most of it if you read too quickly.
When I ask Arthur a question, think about it and try to come up with an answer of your own before reading Arthur's.

Once you have finished the Dialogue your notebook should look very much like Arthur's Notes and you can check your notes against his to fill in any gaps. Read Arthur's Notes carefully. There is no new information in the Notes but the information is presented there in a more condensed form. Use that part of each Ancient Element to review what you have learned in the Dialogue and to prepare for the next part, Questions and Answers.

The Questions and Answers provide opportunities to test your memory and your understanding of the information covered in the Dialogue and Notes. More importantly, they allow you to learn NEW material. Some Q & A are simply repeating definitions, but most are designed to add a bit more to your knowledge. Do them after you have read all of the Dialogue and Notes for that Ancient Element.

Work the Questions one at a time. Read them carefully. It might help to write down a short phrase summarizing the point of the Question, like "Alpha particles are made of...". Then write down your answer. Don't try to imitate my "style", use your own. Once you are satisfied that you have answered the Question in sufficient detail, read it again to be sure.
Then click on the hyperlink to the Answer. Don't be disappointed if you "missed that one". Instead, be sure you know WHY you missed it. Most of the Questions are meant to be hard. They challenge you to use what you have learned. After reading my answer, hyperlink back to the Question and read it again to make sure you really understand the Answer. Once you are satisfied move on to the next one.

Remember, the Questions and Answers not only test you but they teach you more. They are meant to draw you into the course and make the reading a more active learning experience. This is (probably) different from other questions and answers you have known. (These are NOT "self-assessment" questions.)
Some students do not appreciate that there is a lot to be learned in the Questions and Answers. They think it is a matter of getting the questions "done" in order to "move on". Approach them as a "puzzle" to be solved and enjoyed. The Questions and Answers double the information learned in the Dialogue so include them in your notebook and use them to review your Alchemy.

Each Ancient Element includes "Do This!", a series of home experiments meant to reinforce some of the topics covered in the previous reading. You don't need to do the "Do This!" before moving on to the next Ancient Element, but you should certainly read it because it has some additional information you should know.

"Do This!" experiments use common household materials and are not as advanced as experiments you can do with a properly equipped chemistry lab kit. But they do teach you something and give you a chance to try your hand at some Alchemy. Jot down in your notebook the things you need and what to do. Then collect the materials and give it a try. It's best to do "Do This!" in the kitchen.

WARNING! Some "Do This!" use fire and household chemicals that could be dangerous if used by unsupervised children. I go to great (perhaps annoying) lengths to highlight the safety in "Do This!". Children should NOT use fire, flames, stoves, etc. without adult supervision. Parents and teachers are asked to read the "Do This!" portion of each Ancient Element, then instruct and assist their children with "Do This!".

After you have completed each Ancient Element take the Self Evaluation Exam/Test. Each exam consists of 20 questions with 4 (multiple) choices.
When you choose an answer you will get a "pop-up" response indicating whether you got it right or wrong - providing feedback. This immediate feedback is a learning tool so read each reply carefully. I suggest that the first time you take the test, you simply stick with your original answers, complete the test and submit it for a grade. This will give you an idea of what you have learned so far and is more like a "regular" test. (Whatever that is.) Your answers will be graded and each one will be scored Correct or Wrong. Once you have the score and the list of incorrect answers you can use your "Back Button" to return to your exam and correct your errors. (The "scorecard" will not print out. However, sophisticated users will know that they can capture a screen or use some Microsoft tricks to copy the scores into a Word document that will print. Exactly how to do that depends upon your system and your understanding of what I am talking about. So, I will not go into it.) The second time with the exam you can carefully read each response, learn from it and choose the right answer - then submit your perfect score for a final grade.
Important note : on some browsers when you use the page down button to scroll down you will end up shifting your checked answer to the next one down the line! If that happens to you, use your mouse to scroll - not the keyboard.
Another important note : you can take the exams as many times as you like but there is no way to save your answers. Once you turn off the web browser your answers are gone forever.

When you submit a perfect score you will be sent to a "Congratulations Page" and told how to pick up your Certificate for that exam. You will be asked to type in your name and after you have done that you will be sent to your Certificate page. This will have your name and date printed on it to show that you have completed that part of the course. You can print it out and save your Certificates. Collect all four "Certificates of Completion" - one for each Ancient Element.
The Final Exam is comprehensive - covering all the four Ancient Elements - and culminates in a Diploma which can also be printed out.

I am constantly improving the course and I am happy to receive your comments and suggestions.
Email me.


by Arthur

"Why should I have to learn Alchemy?" I asked sincerely. "I'm going to be King some day. You said so yourself."

Merlin smiled and nodded. "That's true, Arthur.", he said. "But even a king must understand these things. Alchemy is the way the World works. It's what things are made of, and how they're made. It's Life!"

"What? Life is Alchemy?" I protested.

"And Alchemy is Life." added the wizard with a wave of his hand. "Medicine. Warfare. Agriculture. Machinery. All these are affected by Alchemy."

"What's machinery?" I asked.

"Oh, yes machines. They are something centuries away in the future. I'll teach you about them some other day."

Merlin time-travels, you know. He's seen the future. Lived it. "My journey to the beginning of time has included my visits with you.", Merlin had explained to me. He has told me much about the future. Some of it very strange. But he promised it was, or actually would be, true. He told me that the land we live upon will one day be called England and I will be its King.
We were inside his stone cottage. Or as he called it, "the lab". It was full of the belongings of a well-traveled wizard.
"Do you have any machines from the future amongst this stuff?" I asked, waving my finger towards the dark corners.

"I have a few things from the future. Helpful tools from the future. But you don't need them in order to learn about Alchemy." Then, turning away, he picked something off the table and asked, "What is this?". A black mouse dangled in front of me.

"A dead mouse." I said "And smelly." I added sitting back in my chair.

"Yes. And stiff too." demonstrated Merlin as he banged it on the table. "Why do you think it's dead?"

"You killed it?" I answered by asking.

"No. I found it dead in its cage this morning. Don't know what killed it."

"Then why ask me?!" I asked defensively.

"No. You're not listening, again. The exuberance of youth I suspect. I didn't ask how it died, but why."

"Oh. Awww. Because God had a grudge against that mouse?" I answered by asking.

"No. Again I'm not asking about its cause. I'm asking about its condition. I just want to know what makes something dead." explained Merlin. "What is the difference between a dead mouse and a live mouse?" asked Merlin. Then quickly adding, "Other than the smell."

"Well, dead mice don't do anything. Live mice run around, eat your grain and spoil what's left with their droppings. If you let them."

"Yes. Exactly. And what do you suppose keeps those mice running around?"

"The food?"

"Precisely." stated Merlin. "The food provides the energy to maintain life and keep it moving. The droppings they leave behind are what is left over when food is used to keep them alive and moving. Dead mice don't eat, leave droppings or run around."

"Why is that?" I asked as a joke.

"Because they have stopped the series of reactions which, collectively, we call "Life". Live mice are constantly undergoing millions of reactions."

"What are reactions?"

"Ah! Reactions are what happens when you change one thing into another."

"Like changing a man into a newt!"

"Well, I suppose. But that is beyond my ability. Nor can I manipulate all the millions of reactions which could turn a dead mouse into a live one. Some reactions are far to complex, or seem to go only one way. In theory it might be possible. But in practice it isn't."

"So this dead mouse has stopped reacting and now there's nothing left." I said.

"Nothing left!" exclaimed Merlin. "What about this?" rapping the mouse corpse on the tabletop.

"It's dead. No reactions right? Dead as a rock."

"Right. No reactions now. But we still have a dead mouse. What is this dead mouse made of?"

"Dead stuff?"

"Yes, but it is made of something. Like this table, the mouse is made of something. A rock is made of something."

"That mouse is as hard as a rock. It's turned to stone. I bet it's made of the same thing as these walls. Rocks!"

"You would be wrong. These walls are made of sandstone." Merlin picked up his "geo hammer", as he liked to call it, and gave the edge of the wall a light hit. Pulling a chunk of sandstone from the edge of the stone, he asked. "How can we find out what this stone, or that mouse, is made of?"

"Cut it open."

"Yes. The mouse would be easier and messier than the rock. But I know a better way to break it down into its parts." He stepped back from his bench, pointed his wand and lit up the large candle between us. "We will do an experiment which has been performed for centuries to determine the composition of Life and many other things. We are going to melt it." He held one end of the sandstone into the flame with the aid of small pincers from the fire place. "I'll just keep this here a while and we'll see what happens. "

Nothing happened. "You can't burn a rock!" I said "I don't think you can melt it either."

"Normally with a candle flame you can't. But this is no ordinary candle. Hundreds of years from now a man named Bunsen will make this special candle. As I adjust it" said Merlin twiddling a valve "it becomes very hot. Especially at that blue point in the flame where I'm holding this sandstone. Oh! Pass me that helmet and put the other one on yourself."

I handed him the strange headgear at my side then put mine on. "What are these things? Besides uncomfortable."

"Safety shields. The front is a hard, clear material produced by Alchemists in centuries to come. It's a plastic."

"And I should care because....."

"Because it will protect your face if this rock explodes. That's why!"

"Rocks can explode?" I said finding a good reason to put my shield on (and lean closer). "And this will protect me?"

"Yes. Just don't get too close to the flame. And don't get too excited about this rock exploding. It probably won't. But some rocks do and then we have an accident and someone gets hurt. Then someone gets blamed for killing or blinding the King of England. So we wear these shields in case of an accident, or we don't do things like this at all."

"OK, OK! Look! Look. It's melting."
We watched as the rock melted and dripped to the table.

"What's that?" asked Merlin pointing to the sand-drops in front of me. I leaned closer to get a good look.

"It looks like smooth sand."

"Yes and its composition hasn't changed, just its structure. It's Earth. The Ancient Alchemists of the Middle Ages called it an Element, because it is elementary. All you can get from Earth is more Earth. It contains nothing else."

"Just Earth." I repeated and poked at the sand drops. "Oh!" I screamed, grabbing my finger.

"Don't go poking at something that's just come out of a flame!" shouted Merlin. "Think lad! It helps to keep you alive."

Oh, how he annoyed me sometimes! What a safety nut! "I won't be doing that again." I said.

"Good, you've learned another of my Lab Tips."

"Don't poke at things fresh from a flame." I echoed.

"And think before you do something. Think of the possibilities and the consequences. You'll last longer."

I nodded and sucked my finger.

"Now, tell me." said Merlin. "Originally the candle had no flame, and now it does. Why?"

"You set it alight with that wand thing you call a lighter. I saw you."

"Yes. But what is the flame? What sustains it? Look. I'm now lighting this wax candle from the Bunsen Burner flame. See how it burns? What is feeding this flame on this wax candle? What keeps the flame alive?"

"The wax from the candle." I said proudly.

"Exactly. The flame on the candle is turning the wax to air and tiny particles of soot. It's a reaction. Like Life. But a flame is not alive in the same sense that we are. The flame's reaction is a very simple one to understand. I'll teach you all the details of that later.
For now all I want to talk about are the basics. Can you describe what reaction the candle flame is doing?"

"Well, it's turning wax into air and soot. Like a mouse turns food into droppings. And they are both reactions. I guess"

"Precisely!" said Merlin. "The wax is Fire's food. Fire burns it to wastes."

"What wastes? I don't see any wastes. Just smoke."

"Exactly, and smoke is the waste. There are some other wastes too. Let's put this cold metal spoon high up here above the flame to collect the smoke. I'm putting it up high so it collects the candle wastes but not much of the heat."

"Soot's collecting on it." I said.

"Yes. That's the Ancient Element Earth again. Here." he said lowering the spoon to me. "Wipe the soot off. Look at it. Feel it."

"What?! And get burned again!"

"Not this time. I held the spoon high above the flame. It's not going to get hot up there. Go ahead feel it."

He was right. It was cool. I wiped a bit off. "It's wet!"

"Yes. It's water. Water is another one of the Ancient's Elements."

"Water! From a flame? That doesn't seem right."

"Alchemy is strange, isn't it?" said Merlin with a wink. "I think that's one of its charms."

"But water will put a fire out. Why should a flame produce it?" I asked.

"Don't confuse the food with the waste. You might be happy to be covered in cake, but not the waste you would make of it."

"Yech! I see what you mean. I just get confused thinking about flames eating food. I mean wax."

"Yes, it does get confusing thinking of it that way." acknowledged Merlin. "That's why we professional Alchemist's like to call them reactants and products. Wax goes into the reaction, so it is a reactant. Earth and Water are produced so they are called the products. Air is produced too. Not a particularly good Air. Actually a pretty awful kind of Air called carbon dioxide."

"Carbo-who?" I asked.

"Ah, yes." said Merlin " Now you begin to learn the incantations of the Alchemist. Carbon dioxide is the name of a specific kind of molecule. We Alchemists tend to name everything. Sometimes it makes it hard to learn but incantations are important. They describe the molecule and from that description we can predict the molecule's behavior and figure out how to do things to it."

"Well, if I understand you" I said, getting back to the burning candle, "everything can be broken down to AIR, WATER, EARTH and FIRE."

"Yes. The four Ancient Elements. But frankly, Arthur, the Alchemy here in the Dark Ages is quite useless. Over simplified, not properly equipped, mixed with superstition and not really a science.
You see, the Ancient Elements are not elements at all. Water can be broken down still further into two true elements (hydrogen and oxygen). Air is made of several different elements and the Earth contains nearly a hundred!"

"And Fire isn't even an element. It's a reaction.", I said.

"Yes. Exactly. Ancient Alchemy was more fun and comfortable for people. The four Ancient Elements come immediately to mind. Everybody knows them and, I believe, they are a good foundation on which to build an understanding of 21st Century Alchemy."

"Great! Let's get on with it!" I commanded. Then I settled down, opened my notebook and waited.

Merlin started to place machines from the future on the table. "I have here a fantastic device which will transcribe our every word. It will even make an image of everything I write on my Magic Blackboard." Merlin always had a trick up his sleeve.

"Fantastic! And what's this for?" I asked, pointing to a crystal ball he was setting gently on the table.

"Ah, yes. That's how we will communicate. You know Arthur, the life of a Wizard is full of adventure and I am needed in other places - other times."

"You're leaving again." I stated the obvious. Merlin travels all the time, and all the place!

"Yes. You know how it is. Anyway, thanks to this ball, there's no need in my absence for you to miss Alchemy lessons. We'll communicate through it. I picked it up in the 22nd century from a nice gentleman who wanted some of my books from the library at Alexandria. We traded."

"Wow, you got a magic crystal ball for some overdue library books!" I laughed.

"Aye. And now they're even more overdue!" he chuckled. "So then, we will carry on our conversations through this time travel communication device. Oh yes, I understand it can be picked up on the Internet too."

"The what?!"

Alchemy by Merlin

How can I get a FREE and COMPLETE copy of Principles of Alchemy (Chemistry) for myself?
Go to the

This work was created by Dr Jamie Love and Creative Commons Licence licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
In this sample, only the first Ancient Element (AIR) is available. The other Elements, WATER, EARTH and FIRE, are included in the complete hypertextbook, and each of those Elements are about twice as long as AIR. To learn more about the course and hypertextbook, visit the Principles of Alchemy (Chemistry) website.