Šm Mërcalo Óuand [ˈmjɛr ka lo ˈo wand] is a Ctésifoni scientist, who revolutionized the study of chemistry and developed the modern idea of chemical elements.
Mërcalo's origins were humble in the extreme: he was born around 3431 to a prostitute and spent his early years in one of Žésifo's street gangs— and not the best of them, as he liked to point out; the belgomî Nidei came from a poor neighborhood and preyed on people not much richer than themselves.
Mërcalo was small for his age and able to fit into tight spaces, such as an attic that led into the temple run by the priest Nožudan Óuand. Óuand caught him attempting to rob the temple, gave him something to eat, and was fascinated by the stories the nine-year-old told him. As Mërcalo told the story later, it took a year to tame him, another to civilize him, and a third to educate him. Finally the priest adopted him, and foresaw making him his successor. The boy was happy enough with the program, though (as he later confessed) believed in no gods; the duties of a priest looked much less onerous than life in a gang.
Thus he attended an avisar attached to the temple of Aežon and Aelëa— these being Arániceri gods still worshipped in Žésifo; though they were theoretically revered by all pagans, temples dedicated to them were rare and their priests were perceived as somewhat unorthodox. Some of Mërcalo’s teachers were interested in physics and chemistry, and these became his consuming passion.
Nonetheless he attended the cletana (seminary) of the temple and was ordained as a full priest in 3453. As he had foreseen, his duties were light, leaving him plenty of time to pursue his investigations.
The nature of elements
The Verdurian word for chemistry is mecliviso, the study of mixtures, the results being used in alchemy and medicine. Ultimately the science was based on the seven elements (ftaconî) posited by the Caďinorians: clay, rock, water, wood, metal, fire, and air. There were now dozens of substances classified under each element, and dozens more created by combinations. To the extent that there was any theory behind this, different substances were considered to have etadecî ‘attributes’; the attributes of combined substances should be predictable from those of their components. Chemists held that a substance could not change either its elements or its attributes— that these were hecuise ‘immutable’— though these could be hidden.
Alchemy, ceřecát was based on the idea that both were mutable. They pointed to the oxidation of iron into rust: not only was a metal becoming a powder, but its attributes changed as well— for instance, its weight increased. Then there were those— notably Ceva Ešireon, one of Óuand’s teachers at the seminary— who suggested that the ancients were wrong about the number of elements; some substances were ”very obviously” elemental, such as water and gold.
The making of air
In the 3400s, the battleground for all these theories was the relatively new study of air (and of vacuums, first produced in 3340). Carbon dioxide had been isolated in 3420, and it was observed that it could neither support animal life nor flames. Once tests for its presence were made (e.g. the precipitation of calcium carbonate by bubbling the gas through a solution of lime), it seemed to turn up all over— produced by plants, by animal respiration, by burning charcoal.
Naturally there was great interest in finding the opposite component of air— whatever it was that supported life and flames. Oxygen (živë šalea ‘lively air’) was produced by the Verdurian chemist Sevasto Eilonuy in 3463, and by Óuand in 3464, both by heating mercuric oxide. Óuand— never an intellectually generous man— at first claimed that his own šalea čošave ‘mercury air’ was different, and then that he had discovered it first.
What Óuand unquestionably discovered was the conservation of mass. He prepared sealed containers and conducted various experiments within them: burning wood chips, releasing oxygen or carbon dioxide into a chamber occupied by a mouse, rusting iron. In each case he showed that the total weight of the enclosure remained fixed. His paper on hecuiseca dimei ’immutability of mass’ (3466) caused a sensation as well as a bitter feud with Verdurian scientists, who Óuand attacked with a vicious disdain that was fully returned.
Measurement of heat
Rušec surcont Muricima, also of Ctésifon, had invented a calorimeter in 3460, and both Ešireon and Óuand experimented with it, measuring the heat produced by burning candles and charcoal. Muricima noticed that different substances have different specific heats (the amount of heat required to raise their temperature a fixed amount); Óuand later claimed that this idea also was his.
Óuand measured the heat produced by a mouse isolated within an ice calorimeter, and based on this as well as the fact that both breathing and combustion consumed oxygen and produced carbon dioxide, posited that respiration was a form of combustion.
He maintained throughout the 3460s that air consisted only of oxygen and carbon dioxide; the Verdurians maintained that both were separate from fäsula šalea “remaining air’. A flaid,Yadderys Gallam, showed conclusively in 3467 that air could be purified of oxygen and then carbon dioxide, leaving a separate gas— i.e. nitrogen. Óuand contested the result until Gallam, exasperated, sent him a vial of fäsula šalea and told him to produce carbon dioxide from it. Gases could not be transported in pure form across such a distance, but Óuand took the point, produced his own fäsula šalea and finally conceded the point, though he could not resist commenting that “the hidebound Verdurians” were still wrong, as their arguments were based entirely on speculation rather than experiment.
The new theory of elements
There was another flurry of excitement in 3469 when scientists in Érenat discovered that hydrogen (which they had isolated in 3452) could be burned to produce water. Theorists struggled to explain this— perhaps hydrogen was a special form of steam? Óuand took the simple conclusion that water was a compound, and proved this in 3471 by decomposing water into hydrogen and oxygen.
In 3473 Óuand published So lebe mižao eta ftaconî (The new theory of elements), in which he proceeded from the study of combusion, respiration, and oxidation to reform the science of chemistry. He proposed that there was a relatively small number of elements, but that these differed strikingly from the list inherited from the ancients. His list included heat, oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen, charcoal, sulfur, phosphorus, and most of the known metals. Water and air were pointedly excluded from the list of elements.
More than this, the work explained the idea of combustion (including respiration) and oxidation, supported by careful measurements of both heat and mass. It had been commonly believed that calcination (including rust) was a form of decomposition; Óuand’s measurements showed that oxidation increased the mass of a metal, thus that something was added; experiments with the opposite process, reduction (heating with carbon) showed that that something was oxygen.
He reviewed all the chemical processes known to him, trying to explain them as chemical reactions— indeed, he can be said to have formalized the very idea of chemical reactions. Many of his particular ideas were incorrect (e.g. his idea that carbon dioxide is an element), but he showed that experiment and measurement, not metaphysical speculation, was the key to further progress.
Óuand was indisputably a man of genius, and he knew it. He had little patience with lesser men— and most men, in his view, were lesser. He was notorious both for the acidity of his prose and for false claims of first discovery. Though his primary targets were the scientists of the northern countries, he alienated many of his Ctésifoni colleagues as well. He refused to join the Imperial Academy, which he considered second-rate and behind the times. He liked to say that his training as a thief and a worshipper of unusual gods was better training for a scientist than formal study, as there was so much less to unlearn.
Nonetheless he was concerned to teach his theories and methods to the young, and wrote several textbooks. In 3477 he published an irascible but highly entertaining set of memoirs, Cogul, borže er visanom (Bastard, heretic, and scientist), which discusses his mother’s profession and his years as a child thief in much detail, but also introduces the subject of chemistry to a wide audience.
He married a student, Palcöra Naneona, in 3459, and has three children. However, his predilections are homosexual, though in Ctésifoni society this must be managed with infinite discretion. His memoirs are frank about his adolescent crushes on various boys, but this is presented as part of the lawless savagery of his early life; the rest of the book simply ignores his erotic life.
The Imperial Academy awareded him a scrifteca in 3467 on the basis of his paper on the conservation of mass; this came with a royal pension, which enabled him to retire from the priesthood. He has undertaken various tasks for the government, including reviewing engineering plans, improving the design of cannons, and helping to create a patent system.