By Ruben Verwaal
Imagine yourself as an 18th-century medical student at Leiden university. You are curious to know why you sometimes feel all weak and limp, while elderly people may have stiff muscles. Why can there be days you suffer from constipation, while on other days you have diarrhoea? Questions such as these also kept professor Jerome Gaub occupied and he believed he could answer them by “the chemical analysis of the human body.” In reference to experiments on bodily fluids and Gaub’s concept of the ‘chemical skeleton’ or cohesive force, this blog will show why chemistry mattered to 18th-century understandings of the body.