The "chymical" papers of Isaac Newton remain enigmatic despite the pioneering studies of B.J.T. Dobbs, R. Westfall, K. Figala, and others. Although Newton wrote about a million words on the subject, only a tiny fraction of this had been examined seriously and even less had been edited before the first phase of the current NSFfunded project (2003-2006). In the second phase (2006-2009), the remainder of Newton's chymical papers will be edited, and a systematic attempt will be made to determine the chronology of the manuscripts and to examine their sources in an exhaustive and critical manner. Previous historians have been unreliable in determining such basic issues as which of the manuscripts are actually Newtonian compositions as opposed to being mere transcriptions or patchwork mosaics of other authors' words. Because of these and other problems, historians are only now beginning to determine what Newton's ultimate goals for his chymistry were, despite previous strong claims that he found his concept of attractive forces there or that he saw his chymistry as part of a quest to discover the vitalistic principles that underlie the cosmos. The intellectual merit of the project will lie in rectifying these problems. The PI, William R. Newman, is researching Newton's chymistry with the goal of composing a new book on the subject, while at the same time overseeing a project to digitize Newton's chymical papers for an online edition (under the general direction of The Newton Project ( at Imperial College London). In order to facilitate our understanding of Newton's chymistry, Newman will continue to carry out research on Newton's laboratory notebooks and manuscripts with the help of Cathrine Reck of the Indiana University Chemistry Department (a number of Newton's experiments have already been replicated by Newman for the recent NOVA documentary, "Newton's Dark Secrets" and for the earlier BBC production, "Newton: the Dark Heretic"). The second phase of the project for editing the chymical papers will be carried out at Indiana University under Newman's direction, with the aid of John Walsh, Associate Librarian (Digital Library Program) at Indiana University. Lawrence M. Principe of Johns Hopkins University will also collaborate on the project, as a consultant in the editing, deciphering, and annotating of Newton's manuscripts. The broader impacts of this project will be multiple. First, Newman's new study will not consider Newton's interests in alchemy merely as ancillary to his physics but will place them within the history of chemistry broadly construed, which will give a new and undistorted picture of the subject. The interest of NOVA and BBC in this project shows that the public will also be eager for the results of this research. The electronic edition will vastly aid Newman and other scholars in studying the development of Newton's chymical project, since the word-searchability of the electronic edition will provide a powerful new tool for helping to determine the relative chronology of the manuscripts by means of source criticism and related techniques. At the same time, employing sophisticated techniques of electronic editing already being implemented at Indiana University (, the editors are producing a web-based edition of great accessibility to the public. In the second phase, the electronic edition will enable end-users to navigate through text using a search and retrieval mechanism that will link transcript in one window to an image of the autograph text in a corresponding frame. Using on-screen windows, it will be possible to manipulate the high-resolution images and juxtapose them in ways not possible with the bound originals. The advanced user interface will also allow a user to label, group, sequence, re-sequence, and annotate discrete sections of text, effectively allowing the user to create his or her own "edition." The result of this project will be a resource that is available not only to professional historians and other scholars, but to anyone with an interest in the fascinating subject of Newton's chymistry, including public schools and other institutions.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Frederick M Kronz
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Indiana University
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