A Collaboration between Rossell Hope Robbins Library and Mary Ann Mavrinac Studio X

About the Project

Travel back to medieval times and learn how to turn base metals into gold and unlock the power of the philosopher’s stone. Featuring authentic 17th-century texts from the Robbins Library’s collection—brought to life with stunning visuals and realistic simulations—Aurum (Latin for gold) will make you feel like a true alchemist as you mix potions and discover the secrets of this ancient craft.

We aim to expand awareness of and access to our library's diverse collections through transformative methods.


  • Reimagine our library’s collections. Imagine if you were able to interact with a text in which you could tap on a word to define it, engage with complex visualizations to illustrate concepts, recreate the recipes from a first-person perspective.
  • De-westernize the perception of alchemy and showcase its rich global history and relevance to a contemporary audience.
  • Transform teaching and learning. Instead of reading about alchemy and imagining the laboratories, tools, recipes, and experiments, what if you could carry out the experiments yourself within a medieval laboratory setting? How would mixing the ingredients and handling the tools impact your understanding of this history?
  • Embrace interdisciplinary collaboration. This project brings together history, science, art, and technology to create something remarkable.
  • Foster hands-on, skill-based, project-based learning opportunities. Students learn XR software and hardware, collaborate in teams, conduct research in a meaningful way.


  • We are committed to showcasing the diverse and global history of alchemical practices and promoting a more inclusive and expansive view of history.
  • We strive to make our VR alchemist laboratory experience accessible to everyone, regardless of background or ability, and are dedicated to creating a comfortable and enriching environment for all.
  • We seek to engage participants in an immersive and interactive learning experience, drawing on the rich resources of the Robbins Library.
  • We aim to leverage cutting-edge technology and modern design practices to bring the ancient art of alchemy to life in a new and exciting way.
  • We value the contributions of multiple stakeholders, including the Robbins Library and user feedback, to create a rich and authentic experience.
  • The project is dedicated to presenting a nuanced and global representation of alchemy, drawing on historical research and expert knowledge to ensure that the experience is based in diverse historical practices while taking creative and magical liberties to enrich storytelling.

History of Alchemy

Alchemy has existed across various cultures and regions throughout history. Its goal is to understand the science of natural substances, their changes, and their transformations. While you might be picturing someone turning base metals into gold or creating some kind of healing potion, many alchemical texts are linked to spiritual and philosophical enlightenment.

Western alchemy originated with a close relationship between mysticism and metallurgy in ancient Egypt around 4,000 years ago. Everything we know of Egyptian alchemy is in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers—most of whose writings only survived in Islamic translations.

In China, alchemy was primarily connected to medicine. Alchemy was known as waidan (external alchemy) and neidan (internal alchemy). Waidan was focused on creating elixirs of immortality and using minerals and metals to treat diseases, while neidan was used for spiritual transformation and the cultivation of the inner self.

In India, alchemy was known as rasayāna, which literally means “the path of the juice” or “the path of essence.” Rasayāna was associated with a system of medicine that used mercury as a core element of its operations, compounds, and medicines. Rasayāna aimed to heal people who were too sick to recover and to increase people’s life spans.

In the Islamic world alchemy (ilm al-kimiya) flourished during the Islamic Golden Age. Heavily influenced by Greek and Egyptian alchemy (most of what we know of earlier traditions is through Islamic translations and commentaries), Islamic alchemists were responsible for major discoveries that furthered alchemy and other sciences, including hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acids, potash, soda, and the technique of distillation. They also made significant advancements in the fields of chemistry, pharmacology, and metallurgy.

The alchemy that developed in Europe during the Middle Ages was heavily indebted to the Islamic tradition, through which European alchemists encountered the works of ancient Greek and Egyptian alchemy. Alchemy was deeply tied to religion and philosophy, and many influential alchemists were also priests, monks, or friars. By the end of the Middle Ages, however, alchemy was more associated with occult practices. In the 16th and 17th centuries, alchemy was studied alongside magic, medicine, and what we now think of as modern science, particularly chemistry. Many scientists such as Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Tycho Brahe were also alchemists. While the pursuit of transmutation and the creation of an elixir of life were eventually abandoned, alchemy played a significant role in the development of modern science.

Robbins Library Manuscript

Page from the manuscript Aurumis based on. Shows an old page with Latin handwriting.

This manuscript is a personal collection of alchemical texts from 17th-century Italy, containing more than a dozen recipes, many of which involve the creation of the philosopher’s stone.

Our research team has transcribed and translated the texts from the manuscript, which were originally written in both Latin and Italian. These texts include some of the most popular alchemical treatises from the late Middle Ages and early modern periods.

While the original owner of the manuscript remains unknown, it’s highly likely that the owner was an alchemist who gathered materials from their own experiments and their colleagues.

Through Aurum VR, you can step into the shoes of an alchemist and explore the recipes found in the alchemical miscellany manuscript, gradually unraveling the secrets of the ancient craft.

Project Team

3D Modeling Team
Coding Team
Previous Collaborators
  • Libby Braun, Modeling Team Lead, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Ayiana Crabtree, Story Team Lead, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Muhammed El-Sayed, Project Mentor, Karp Library Fellow, Studio X
  • Samuel Henderson, Coding Team Lead, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Koshala Mathuranayagam, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Waleed Nadeem, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Mila Paymukhina, Project Manager, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Fin Tran, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Noah Viso, Project Manager, XR Specialist, Studio X
  • Haochen Zeng, XR Specialist, Studio X

Explore more projects

View all

Project status
Ongoing Project