© 2014

The Quest for Aqua Vitae

The History and Chemistry of Alcohol from Antiquity to the Middle Ages


Part of the SpringerBriefs in Molecular Science book series (BRIEFSMOLECULAR)

Also part of the SpringerBriefs in History of Chemistry book sub series (BRIESFHISTCHEM)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-viii
  2. Seth C. Rasmussen
    Pages 1-11
  3. Seth C. Rasmussen
    Pages 13-27
  4. Seth C. Rasmussen
    Pages 29-48
  5. Seth C. Rasmussen
    Pages 49-69
  6. Seth C. Rasmussen
    Pages 71-77
  7. Seth C. Rasmussen
    Pages 79-94
  8. Back Matter
    Pages 107-111

About this book


Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is one of the most ubiquitous chemical compounds in the history of the chemical sciences. The generation of alcohol via fermentation is also one of the oldest forms of chemical technology, with the production of fermented beverages such as mead, beer, and wine predating the smelting of metals. By the 12th century, the ability to isolate alcohol from wine had moved this chemical species from a simple component of alcoholic beverages to both a new medicine and a powerful new solvent. Of course, this also began the long tradition of production of liqueurs and strong spirits for consumption. The use of alcohol as a fuel, however, did not occur until significantly later periods. This volume presents a general overview of the early history and chemistry of alcohol production and isolation, as well as a discussion of its early uses in both the chemical arts and medicine.


Alcohol Distillation Alcohol Isolation Date Wine Fermented Beverages Fermented Milk Grape Wine Mead Mesopotamian Beer Palm Wine Viniculture

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Dept. of Chemistry and BiochemistryNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA

About the authors

Seth C. Rasmussen is Professor of Chemistry at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from Washington State University in 1990 and his Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from Clemson University in 1994, under the guidance of Prof. John D. Peterson. As a postdoctoral associate at the University of Oregon, he then studied conjugated organic polymers under Prof. James E. Hutchison. In 1997, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Oregon, before moving to join the faculty at NDSU in 1999. Active in the fields of materials chemistry and the history of chemistry, his research interests include the design and synthesis of conjugated materials, photovoltaics (solar cells), organic light emitting diodes, the application of history to chemical education, the history of materials, and chemical technology in antiquity. As both author and editor, Prof. Rasmussen has contributed to books in both materials and history and has published more than 50 research papers. He is a member of various international professional societies including the American Chemical Society, Materials Research Society, Alpha Chi Sigma, Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, and the International History, Philosophy & Science Teaching Group. Professor Rasmussen currently serves as the Program Chair for the History of Chemistry division of the American Chemical Society and as Series Editor for Springer Briefs in Molecular Science: History of Chemistry.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title The Quest for Aqua Vitae
  • Book Subtitle The History and Chemistry of Alcohol from Antiquity to the Middle Ages
  • Authors Seth C. Rasmussen
  • Series Title SpringerBriefs in Molecular Science
  • Series Abbreviated Title SpringerBriefs in Molecular
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Author(s) 2014
  • Publisher Name Springer, Cham
  • eBook Packages Chemistry and Materials Science Chemistry and Material Science (R0)
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-319-06301-0
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-319-06302-7
  • Series ISSN 2191-5407
  • Series E-ISSN 2191-5415
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages VIII, 111
  • Number of Illustrations 31 b/w illustrations, 16 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Organic Chemistry
    History of Science
    History, general
  • Buy this book on publisher's site
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“This brief monograph is part of the ‘SpringerBriefs History of Chemistry’ series (a subseries of ‘SpringerBriefs in Molecular Science’). Rasmussen (North Dakota State Univ.), a recognized historian of chemistry, is also the series editor. … The book is well documented with copious footnotes that include brief biographies of many of the figures involved in this history, and full references. … Summing Up: Recommended. All general, academic, and professional history of chemistry collections.” (H. Goldwhite, Choice, Vol. 52 (5), January, 2015)

“The book is well written, extensively referenced, and covers a range of scholarly material on ethanol production from several disciplines. The result is a convincing and erudite study of the early history of this most attractive of compounds, and one that I recommend highly for all chemists and their libraries.” (John Nicholson, Chemistry World, December, 2014)