Alchemy old and new

05 November 2007 | Story by Myolisi Gophe

Lecture: Professor Alison Lewis has presented her inaugural lecture on crystallisation.

In her inaugural lecture on 31 October, Professor Alison Lewis, head of the Crystallisation and Precipitation Unit in the Department of Chemical Engineering, drew comparisons between the age-old art of alchemy and the chemical processes used today.

In the lecture, Crystallisation: The art of the state, Lewis traced the works of the Arab alchemists of the 7th century and their 17th century western counterparts, methods that mirror those of modern chemical engineers.

"There is a strong link between them and the contemporary extractive metallurgy in that exactly the same physical phenomena are the basis of many of the processes extensively used today," said Lewis.

Lewis - and her three children - also did a live experiment to demonstrate some of this historical alchemy.

In addition, Lewis gave an overview of her unit's work on nickel, platinum and rhodium extraction.

Finally, she spoke on the unit's growing role in water treatment, specifically related to the critical problem of treating contaminated mine waters generated in South Africa.

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