Author Topic: Physicists Turn Lead into Gold - I'm waiting on the home version.  (Read 7866 times)


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Before Chemistry was a science, there was Alchemy. One of the supreme quests of alchemy is to transmute lead into gold. Lead (atomic number 82) and gold (atomic number 79) are defined as elements by the number of protons they possess. Changing the element requires changing the atomic (proton) number. The number of protons cannot be altered by any chemical means. However, physics may be used to add or remove protons and thereby change one element into another. Because lead is stable, forcing it to release three protons requires a vast input of energy, such that the cost of transmuting it greatly surpasses the value of the resulting gold.

Transmutation of lead into gold isn't just theoretically possible - it has been achieved!

There are reports that Glenn Seaborg, 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, succeeded in transmuting a minute quantity of lead (possibly en route from bismuth, in 1980) into gold. There is an earlier report (1972) in which Soviet physicists at a nuclear research facility near Lake Baikal in Siberia accidentally discovered a reaction for turning lead into gold when they found the lead shielding of an experimental reactor had changed to gold.

Today particle accelerators routinely transmute elements. A charged particle is accelerated using electrical and/or magnetic fields. In a linear accelerator, the charged particles drift through a series of charged tubes separated by gaps. Every time the particle emerges between gaps, it is accelerated by the potential difference between adjacent segments. In a circular accelerator, magnetic fields accelerate particles moving in circular paths. In either case, the accelerated particle impacts a target material, potentially knocking free protons or neutrons and making a new element or isotope. Nuclear reactors also may used for creating elements, although the conditions are less controlled.

Offline Conflagration2100

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Re: Physicists Turn Lead into Gold - I'm waiting on the home version.
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2010, 04:29:32 pm »
This goes back to this posting I made back in November, which I was reminded of by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) discussion and the  "buying up" of of lead several years ago in the area I lived in then (about 10 years ago).

Actually the "Home Version" is available, if your willing to build it yourself. although an arduous project, it's still a lot simpler than most people think and can operate on a small or large scale. There are a few things nowadays that may be a little more difficult to obtain, but if you do your research and do it thoroughly, you can find some substitutes and some workarounds and sources of material from items you normally wouldn't have thought of before, which turn out to be ordinary objects. One of the problems that will be most challenging will be in obtaining Beryllium ( for a target medium used to displace or inject the the Neutron and Protons into the metal to be trans muted), but for this you may find a workaround, depending on whether you attempt to raise or lower the transmutable elements position within the Periodic Chart. If you'll look into the Van De Graaff generator, it can be used as a particle accelerator. It can also be built to any scale that you want or "can afford?"
With a steel frame, an electric motor, a couple of (or few) rollers with bearings, a rubber conveyor belt, some sheet copper strips, a few magnets, some high tension insulators, a power supply and a few more items, this should get you started.
If you plan on going "larger scale" and want to save money, I recommend "Metal Salvage Yards" for a cheap source of building materials.   

Offline agentbluescreen

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Re: Physicists Turn Lead into Gold - I'm waiting on the home version.
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2010, 05:24:36 pm »
The problem is this unstable form of "" discussed there is a "radioactive gold isotope" lacking the normal number of neutrons in it's nucleus (normally equal to the number of protons) to be a stable form of gold as the normally-weighing natural chemical element.

The Baikal nuclear accident resulted in the unit having to be re-lined with lead to "cool-off" again, and a nasty radioactive release. As for using accelerators, the milligram-per-year home version of this would make an aluminum smelter's electric bills look like a bargain

In 1972, Russian scientists found that the lead shielding of an experimental nuclear reactor near Lake Baikal in
Siberia had unexpectedly turned to gold!

Unfortunately such gold is likely to be radioactive, and would decay back to stable lead, whilst releasing dangerous radiation.

A possible route to gold would be from mercury. If mercury of its various naturally occuring isotopes could be made to capture neutrons, the resulting nuclear decay chains would eventually yield gold-197, the most
common naturally occuring gold isotope, and perfectly stable.

The neutrons used in this process would need to have an energy of at least 9 MeV in order for a complete transmutation of the mercury to occur. These energies are well within the capabilities of nuclear reactors
however the gold is likely to be contamiated with other radioisotopes. Particle accelerators could therefore be the alternative...

Particle Acceleration

In modern particle accelerators it is possible to accelerate neutrons to energies of above 9 MeV. This is enough to convert all of a naturally occuring sample of mercury into gold, as noted above.

However, as the atoms of mercury are mostly empty space with a central nucleus, most of the neutrons pass straight through the target. This makes the process of transmutation slow, and highly demanding of energy. The cost of this energy far outweighs the value of the gold produced and the transmutation is therefore not economically viable.

Though particle acceleration may not be an economically viable method to produce gold, its transmuting abilities find applications in other areas.

Nuclear researchers have suggested a type of nuclear reactor which uses a proton beam to create neutrons in fissionable material from spent nuclear fuel. This system would be sub-critical without the source of neutrons but with it becomes a source of energy. At the same time this reduces long lived nuclear waste, with half lives in the order of millions of years, to short lived isotopes, whose half lives are only a few hundred years.

So maybe the Large Hadron Collider could (eventually) come in handy, but perhaps still not enough for cost-effective gold production alchemy...

Offline agentbluescreen

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Re: Physicists Turn Lead into Gold - I'm waiting on the home version.
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2010, 06:13:16 pm »
Both a former professor and Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, Glenn Seaborg was at the heart of the Manhattan Project and is credited with developing the theories of/for the "actinide" (man-made) and theorized the transactinide series and the superactinide series of undiscovered synthetic elements. He was responsible for the multi-stage chemical process that first separated, concentrated and isolated plutonium. He was appointed by JFK as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

"several thousand atoms" of gold is an amount you'd have a hard time seeing in a microscope, but his stable neutron transmutation process involved "morphing" bismuth, not mercury nor lead.

Quote from:
In 1980, he transmuted several thousand atoms of bismuth into gold at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.[21] His experimental technique, using nuclear physics, was able to remove protons and neutrons from the bismuth atoms. Seaborg's technique would have been far too expensive to enable routine manufacturing of gold, but his work is the closest to the mythical Philosopher's Stone.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Seaborg to serve on the National Commission on Excellence in Education. Upon seeing the final draft report, Seaborg is credited with making comments that it was far too weak and did not communicate the urgency of the current crisis. He compared the crisis in education to the arms race, and stated that we are "a nation at risk." These comments led to a new introduction to the report and gave the report the famous title which focused national attention on education as an issue germane to the federal government.

...and thank you, Lincoln Park  :o


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Re: Physicists Turn Lead into Gold - I'm waiting on the home version.
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2010, 06:28:17 pm »
You ever research monoatomic gold and or exotic matter?