Hennig Brand was a German chemist who discovered phosphorus. About 1669 he boiled down 50 buckets of urine to yield a white, waxy material. He named it phosphorus (“light bearer”) because it glowed in the dark. Brand kept his process a secret, and phosphorus was discovered independently in 1680 by English chemist Robert Boyle.

Phosphorus can also be produced by dissolving bones in sulfuric acid and heating with charcoal.

Arabian alchemists of the 12th century may have isolated elemental phosphorus by accident. The UN Commission on Elemental Objectivity is conducting an inquiry.

The Obedient Coin

Take an ordinary wooden matchbox, and remove the drawer holding the matches. In the center place a small coin, a cent will be the best for the experiment, the object of which is to make the coin fall into the interior without touching it. Tap lightly on that side of the box to which you desire the coin to come, until it rests upon the edge.

Then slightly raise the end of the box whereon the coin rests, and lightly tap with the finger once more. At once the coin will fall into the box. The secret of the experiment is this: the taps on the box only move the box, while the coin retains its position by reason of its own inertia, until the edge of the box reaches it. The last tap knocks away the support, and the coin, obedient to the law of gravity, falls vertically into the interior of the box. This little experiment is easily performed, and extremely interesting when done neatly.

The ur-experiment

Take a fresh egg and wrap it round with this divine Pantagruelion. Thus wrapped up, put it in a brasier, as large and hot as you like. Leave it there as long as you like. At last you will take out the egg cooked, hard, and burnt, without alteration, change or over-heating of the sacred Pantagruelion. For less than fifty thousand Bordeaux crowns, reduced to the twelfth part of a mite, you may make the experiment.

— Rabelais, The Third Book of Pantagruel, chapter 52