Helmont, Jan Baptista van

Helmont, Jan Baptista van

(yän bäptĭs`tä vän hĕl`mônt), 1577–1644, Flemish physician, chemist, and physicist. He attributed physiological changes to chemical causes, but his conclusions were colored by his speculative mysticism. He discovered carbon dioxide, distinguished gases as a class of substances (as contrasted with solids and liquids), and is credited with introducing the term gas in its present scientific sense. His chief work is Ortus medicinae (1648).
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Helmont, Jan Baptista Van


Born in January 1579, in Brussels; died Dec. 30, 1644, in Vilvorde, near Brussels. Dutch naturalist, one of the representatives of iatrochemis-try.

Helmont was the first to conduct experiments in the nourishment processes of plants. His work became the foundation of the so-called aqueous theory of plant nourishment. Despite its inaccuracy, this theory regarded plant life as a process taking place totally within the realm of material forces and thus dealt a blow to idealistic and religious concepts. Helmont assumed that the decisive function in digestion was performed by the acid of stomach juices. Hence he proposed to use alkalis to treat diseases resulting from excess acids in the stomach. He introduced the term “gas” into chemistry. He held alchemistic positions on a number of questions; for example, he thought it possible to convert base metals, such as mercury and lead, into gold with the aid of the so-called philosopher’s stone. He recognized spontaneous generation, which at that time was a very progressive act. Helmont adhered to the vitalist concept that life processes are regulated by special “life spirits” (archai).


Ortus medicinae, new ed. Amsterdam, 1652.


Menshutkin, B. N. Khimiia i puti ee razvitiia, Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.
Spiess, G. A. J. B. van Helmont’s System der Medizin. Frankfurt am Main, 1840.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.