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Transmutation of the Elements

  1. Feb 27, 2012 #1
    Lead AN 82 and gold AN 79 are fairly close to one an other on the Periodic Table - so maybe the alchemists of the middle ages were on to something. In fact it was already done: 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.

    has there been a follow up research on this? and what about these artificial elements - were they not transumated from other elements lower on the Periodic Table?

    is transmutation of the elements similar tot he fusion process in stars? - in which case control of the engery released would be necessary - or is there or could there be a more graceful way of doing it.

    Every so often I come across the term 'picotechnoly' - a possible development from 'nanotechnology' and which would involve manipulation of sub atomic particles. Assuming such a technology was possible in the future then would we not have a more graceful method of transmutation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2015 #2


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    Yes. Neptunium, Plutonium, Americium and Curium are produced in nuclear reactors. Tiny amounts of heavier elements are produced as well but those don't have relevant applications outside of academic research.
    Not that similar. Fusion with heavier atoms needs energy instead of releasing it.

    It is possible to make gold artificially. It is just way too expensive.
    The best raw materials cost about the same as gold, with other raw materials the amount of gold produced goes down even more. You need an expensive accelerator to shoot nuclei onto the target, and that accelerator needs a lot of energy and time for a tiny amount of gold. To make things worse, there is just one stable isotope of gold, but transmutation produces many different isotopes. Your gold would be radioactive, and you would have to do isotope separation, which is again much more expensive than natural gold.
  4. Sep 10, 2015 #3


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    Let me put an example recipe, to show the complexity.

    You should get Mercury and distill or centrifuge a lot of times until you get to isolate the 201 isotope. By this time, if you were not mad at the start of the process, you surely will be, from inhalations.

    Now you need the accelerator (Natural uranium or rector neutrons will not work, they give you only 14 MeV max) to induce (x,alpha) decay to platinum. A natural alpha works for energy output of the order of some GeV, and the mass difference

    121 80 201 Hg 200.9703028
    2 2 4 He 4.00260325413
    119 78 197 Pt 196.967340

    Hg - (Pt + He)= .00035 u (326 MeV)

    is very small to decay without help. Worse, whatever method you have use to induce the alpha will also work in the Platinum, as the next element

    117 76 193 Os 192.96414
    has about the same parameters
    Pt - (Os + He) = .00058 u (540 MeV)

    Fortunately the desired final reaction, beta to Au
    118 79 197 Au 196.9665687
    Pt - Au = .000 772 (719 MeV)
    is energetic enough and will happen spontaneously. But you could still need some method to continuously remove the platinum of the target.

    As far as i know, nobody has never even tried the process. Too expensive, nothing to learn. If you are into the bussiness of (n,x) reactions, better to use your time to build tables to fissionate actinides.

    (btw, the data is from the 2012 mass evaluation)
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2015
  5. Sep 10, 2015 #4


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    As others have mentioned, it would be too expensive to produced gold through transmutation, even without the matter of a radioactive isotope. The fission process produces neutrons and fission products, and there is some consideration of extracting rare earth elements (lanthanides) from spent fuel once the activity has diminished.

    Otherwise, we do produce elements (radionuclides) heavier than uranium. Most do not have practical applications and are of academic/scientific interest, but a few have application. Americium (Am-241) is used in smoke detectors, and Cf-252 is as a neutron source for various applications, including the startup of nuclear reactors.

    http://web.ornl.gov/~webworks/cpr/pres/102606.pdf [Broken]

    http://dwb.unl.edu/teacher/nsf/c04/c04links/www.fwkc.com/encyclopedia/low/articles/t/t025001453f.html [Broken]

    Please note that the original post is more than three years old.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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