January 03, 2006

Horse 470 - Alchemy?

Medieval crackpots and shysters and thise who said they'd fix ya with a bottle of that elixir, held that one the sciences was that of alchemy or the principle that one could transmute materials; most famously how to turn lead into gold. I want to know can it be done?

In 1941 Glenn Seaborg also discovered that the isotope U235 undergoes fission under appropriate conditions. He therefore was responsible for two different approaches to the development of nuclear weapons. He was transferred to the Manhattan Project and was part of the team which achieved the first nuclear chain reaction, something which the Germans with their own atomic pile never acheived.
Later and in a series of other experiments he worked how out to convert U238 to Plutonium-239 using a chain-reacting pile. Seaborg's role was to figure out how to extract the tiny bit of plutonium from the mass of uranium.

Knowing that it's possible to reduce large elements down to Lead-208, you'd think that in theory that it should be "simple" to find Gold on the list somewhere. The problem is that Lead-208 is extremely stable and does not readily decay at all. In fact through a process of fusion evident in stars, Lead-208 is the most likely endpoint.

So then, has it ever been done and if so, how?

This process of bombarding the atomic nucleus with high energy particles is the principle behind modern particle accelerators, in which transmutations of elements are common. Indeed, in 1980, Seaborg transmuted lead into gold, though the amount of energy used and the microscopic quantities created negated any possible financial benefit.

There is of course a simpler, method to go about this if all you're concerned with is colour. All one requires is to find some electrum and nitric acid. Electrum is a gold-silver alloy and the nitric acid merely separates the silver from the alloy. Of course this is common chemistry and nowhere near as fun as alchemy.

The other method is as follows: As soon as you put food in the sink, it becomes garbage.

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