Lead into gold?

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Lead into gold?

Postby sox » Sat Mar 26, 2011 5:04 am UTC

The goal of transmuting lead into gold was one of the hallmarks of Alchemy. Today I was thinking about how we'd achieve this feat using nuclear fission... could a skilled mad scientist simply break lead atoms into gold+lithium?

If it's theoretically possible, would you use a particle accelerator, some kind of reactor, or something more exotic?

According to wolfram alpha, a metric ton of lead is worth $2730, and a troy ounce of gold is worth $1429. Given the near-astronomical price difference between the two, could you actually make a profit by turning lead into gold? Or would the cost of splitting the lead down to gold+lithium exceed the increase in market value?

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Re: Lead into gold?

Postby Korrente » Sat Mar 26, 2011 6:08 am UTC

I'm sure this has been asked here before, but:


Ironically, it transpired that, under true nuclear transmutation, it is far easier to turn gold into lead than the reverse reaction, which was the one the alchemists had ardently pursued. Nuclear experiments have successfully transmuted lead into gold, but the expense far exceeds any gain.

And an article linked from that wiki:

If it were easy to turn lead into gold, I would guess there would be much more natural gold than there is, hence why it is valuable.

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Re: Lead into gold?

Postby Soralin » Sat Mar 26, 2011 7:14 am UTC

Of course, there's a more profitable, and easier, reaction you could be doing:

Uranium: $0.11/gram
Plutonium: $5740/gram http://www.nbl.doe.gov/htm/lists/pluton ... e_list.htm


If you want precious metals, tungsten might be a better place to start at. There's a whole bunch of very precious metals just a few steps ahead of it on the periodic table. All you'd have to do is add neutrons until it decays into something more valuable.

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Re: Lead into gold?

Postby thoughtfully » Sat Mar 26, 2011 8:15 pm UTC

Doing this sort of thing economically in bulk quantities is still way out of reach, regardless of the ability to achieve it a few atoms at a time. Plutonium is a bit funny, because there is a high demand for it, and almost none exists in the environment. Another is Technetium, which is extra weird because it has a relatively low Z and still manages to decay too fast for there to be any around. You can make the same arguments about oddball isotopes of familiar elements. Hence, unless you need the radiological properties, dig it out of the ground. Or extract it from seawater. Whatever floats your boat!
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Re: Lead into gold?

Postby Kow » Sun Mar 27, 2011 2:24 am UTC

I remember reading on wikipedia somewhere (I wish I could remember exactly where. Some light searching yielded nothing) that the original transmutation attempts were actually just a way to refine metals that had trace amounts of gold in them and that there was a successful method of doing so. Take that with a grain of salt though, since I obviously don't have any source linked here.

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