Author Archives: Richard Moreno

My recipe project is involved with the creation of white phosphorus following Hennig Brands original recipe using urine. Since the yield is so small from the original recipe I have been exploring alternative methods. I have found that by adding charcoal to the process I can reduce the 16-hour boiling time frame from the original, as charcoal binds with the elements that are usually boiled out to isolate the phosphorus, and allows for an easier, quicker removal. Originally I wanted to try and isolate at least a gram of white phosphorus, which would require around 9 Liters of urine, yet upon further research I found that the smell is worse than initially thought, and news articles have come to my attention of neighbors calling the cops on people boiling urine. (Boiling urine can be a process in the production of methamphetamines) So I am going to try the process with far less, probably only around 8 oz. and see if I can obtain a few milligrams.

Currently I am allowing the pee to sit in an open container, a sort of fermentation happens allowing the phosphorus content to grow, as it slowly changes color from a clea-rish yellow to a darker amber . During this time I have discovered through my research how important the element of phosphorus is. It is vital for life in general and is a main component of DNA, blood, and bones. It is also vital for humanities food supply as fertilizers are used as a way to feed crops the phosphorus they need. The world currently gets most of its phosphorus from Morocco, (it’s a huge industry at $76 billion a year) and there may not be enough in future years. This has resulted in many countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark) implementing NoMix toilets that separate waste to be used for fertilizers, and create a more readily available supply of the element, and also reduce water waste.

I see how Hennig Brand thought he found the philosophers stone when discovering phosphorus, it glows in the dark, lights a flame that burned brighter than previously seen at the time, and is a necessary life force for the human body. This bright burning fire had a relationship to enlightenment, as bright cool flames were thought of as and representative of knowledge/faith, and warm fires were representative of destruction, at least symbolically in the history of painting. There’s also the fact that it flows through the Earth, our bodies, and the food we eat that makes it seem like a spirit. It was the first element ever to be discovered, represented as P and number 15 on the periodic table.

Finally here are some examples of contemporary art using urine as a material. Andre Serrano’s “Piss Christ”, and one of Andy Warhol’s (Piss Paintings) from the “Oxidation Series”.





Scales of Seeing

Reflecting on my experience from the Nature Lab I was blown away from the level of depth and transformations of material under the microscope that could be achieved. Looking at the fangs of a tarantula I was able to slowly zoom in until I could see past the coarse hair and see a kind of fur underneath with small crystalline structures scattered geometrically through out the appendage. It was impressive in that something that started off looking very ragged ended up resembling a couture fur coat on closer inspection.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying that the use of the microscope was alienating or an abstraction of the original object, at least not the stereomicroscopes that I was using. The slow zoom in from a recognizable magnification of 18x to the maximum point of 300x allowed me a point of understanding of how the objects and specimens were grown or constructed naturally. One particularly interesting specimen was that of a wasp’s nest, being able to see inside the honeycomb structure and really make out the octagonal openings makes me feel I understand the life of a wasp more now.

What I witnessed as peculiarly alienating was the SEM magnifying a few grains of sand to 20,000 times. Something so small and miniscule that can make its way into ones sock, was found to look like terrestrial planets or asteroids inhabiting another universe was truly bizarre. Beyond that, needing a map to navigate something with the surface area of a penny is just mind-boggling.

Thinking back to Hooke’s “Micrographia” I can see how radical the microscope was, while still having a tangible feeling of reality. Upon viewing a fly’s head at around 100X (what I presume was around the capabilities of Hook’s microscope) I could see in detail the individual eyes it possessed instead of just looking like a complex pattern, or make out the tiny hairs it has on its body invisible to the natural eye. In this way I can imagine how exciting these breakthroughs were at the time.