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I am currently playing a dungeons and dragons campaign in which there are some new elements. My party, being the nerds that we are, is looking to experiment with them and attempt to discover new ones using a spectroscope. The problem is that we need a solvent that will dissolve our sample. I was wondering if there were any suggestions as for what to use, or how to obtain it, as the game takes place in a medieval time period. Acetone would be best, but I'm not sure that it's possible to extract that from nature, although it does occur naturally. Thanks!

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  • $\begingroup$ Are the samples minerals from which the elements have to be refined? $\endgroup$ – Klaus-Dieter Warzecha Nov 29 '16 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ No, we either have, or can refine the materials ourselves. $\endgroup$ – James Kirk Nov 29 '16 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ I was asking because strong acids, such as sulfuric acid or nitric acid would have been possible solvents. For these, historical methods of preparation, that would fit in the medieval time frame, are known. $\endgroup$ – Klaus-Dieter Warzecha Nov 29 '16 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ That's a good point, someone had mentioned aqua regia, but I didn't know how to find the medieval preparation methods, nor whether that actually existed. Originally, I was thinking perhaps melting it with something similar to thermite, do you think that would work? $\endgroup$ – James Kirk Nov 29 '16 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Btw, welcome to Chemistry.SE! I always like questions on chemistry in fiction :) If you like to know a bit more on how this site works, please have a look and take the tour :) $\endgroup$ – Klaus-Dieter Warzecha Nov 29 '16 at 22:36
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The medieval "nerd" in a D&D campaign might use acids to get minerals into solution.

Sulfuric acid ($\ce{H2SO4}$, vitriol oil) was initially prepared by heating iron(II)-sulfate ($\ce{FeSO4 · 7 H2O}$, iron vitriol) in a retort. The emerging sulfur trioxide was collected an led into water.

Nitric acid ($\ce{HNO3}$) was prepared by heating mixtures of potassium nitrate ($\ce{KNO3}$, saltpetre) with iron vitriol.

Hydrogen chloride ($\ce{HCl}$) was available by the reaction of vitriol oil with halite ($\ce{NaCl}$).

Mixing hydrochloric acid with nitric acid would then give aqua regia.

Another method to get the cations of minerals with low solubility in water into solution is the so called Aufschluß.

Here, one would either melt the mineral with

  • a mixture of soda and potash, or
  • a mixture of sulfur and potash

in a crucible and eventually leach out the now soluble material with water.


Admittedly, our D&D alchemist still doesn't have a spectroscope :\

In order to characterize the metals in the samples, he could use his Lötrohr, a kind of blow pipe and blow the flame of his oil lamp onto the sample place on a piece of charcoal or a gypsum plate. From the colour of the flame and/or the colour of the residue formed, he could draw some conclusions on the metal.

If our medieval science hero is a bit ahead of his epoch, he would also carry some borax in a bag and create borax pearls for a bead test.

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