As an alumna of Robinson College Cambridge and historian of science, Dr Anke Timmermann of Type & Forme was asked to contribute a piece on the history of alchemy and medicine to a special issue (on medical innovations) of the College alumni magazine, Bin Brook. She here explores how the desire for a healthy, pain-free life connects historical and modern doctors and patients, how alchemy helped in the search for cures for the most deadly diseases – and how alchemy fell out of favour with the Royal Society while its president, Isaac Newton, continued to be fascinated by it.

The manuscripts featuring in this article are from the collections of the Cambridge University Library, where Anke was Munby Fellow in Bibliography in 2013/14.