Atlas Obscura: How Scholars Cracked a Medieval Alchemist’s Secret Code

Online magazine features Institute fellows Megan Piorko and Sarah Lang, who helped decode a puzzling Latin cipher.

Science History Institute fellows Megan Piorko and Sarah Lang are featured in an Atlas Obscura article about a Latin cipher written by 16th- and 17th-century alchemist and physician Arthur Dee. Piorko, who is a second-year Allington Postdoctoral Fellow, and Lang, who is a short-term Herdegen Fellow, contributed to the decryption of what turned out to be the recipe for the legendary Philosophers’ Stone. The pair is currently working on an article about the cipher and its secrets with mathematician and cryptologist Richard Bean. They plan to reach out to chemistry colleagues who also work in the history of alchemy to help them recreate Dee’s recipe for eternal life.

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Engraving by Matthaeus Merian the Elder depicts the alchemical universe with the Philosopher's Stone at its center, 1618. FOTOTECA STORICA NAZIONALE/CONTRIBUTOR/GETTY IMAGES