Science historian Larry Principe studies the European alchemists, proto-chemists who tried to turn base metals into gold by combining mythology, religion, and the beginnings of true science. In this video, he explains why alchemists' notebooks—their records of experiments—are so difficult to understand, and how an alchemist might have gone about turning a science experiment into fanciful, analogy-filled secret code.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.