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Butter of Antimony, Flowers of Zinc

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Butter of antimony, blue vitriol, flowers of zinc are terms used for centuries by alchemists, now replaced by the scientific names antimony trichloride, cupric sulfate, and powdered zinc oxide. In his delightful memoir Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (Bookshop|Amazon) Oliver Sacks explains how the standardization of such chemical names by the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier and others provides a better understanding of how these substances interact with others. The trade-off, however, is losing a bit of poetry along the way. Sacks is also the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. (Bookshop|Amazon) This is part of a complete episode.

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