Atomic accelerator carbon dating
More than 30 years ago nuclear scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California succeeded in producing very small amounts of gold from bismuth, a metallic element adjacent to lead on the periodic table.
Believing them to be hybrid compounds, and therefore amenable to chemical change in laboratory reactions, the alchemists pursued the dream of to no avail.
With the dawn of the atomic age in the 20th century, however, the transmutation of elements finally became possible.
In experimental fusion reactors heavy isotopes of hydrogen merge together to form helium.
(An element is defined by the number of protons in its nucleus whereas an isotope of a given element is determined by the quantity of neutrons.) But what of the fabled transmutation of lead to gold?
“It is relatively straightforward to convert lead, bismuth or mercury into gold,” Morrissey says.
For hundreds of years alchemists toiled in their laboratories to produce a mythical substance known as the philosopher’s stone.The supposedly dense, waxy, red material was said to enable the process that has become synonymous with alchemy— the metamorphosis, or transmutation, of base metals such as lead into gold.
In commercial nuclear reactors, uranium atoms break apart to yield smaller nuclei of elements such as xenon and strontium as well as heat that can be harnessed to generate electricity.Because the cosmic ray bombardment is fairly constant, there’s a near-constant level of carbon-14 to carbon-12 ratio in Earth’s atmosphere.Organisms at the base of the food chain that photosynthesize – for example, plants and algae – use the carbon in Earth’s atmosphere.“We could have used lead in the experiments, but we used bismuth because it has only one stable isotope,” Morrissey says.The element’s homogeneous nature means it is easier to separate gold from bismuth than it is to separate gold from lead, which has four stable isotopic identities.It is indeed possible—all you need is a particle accelerator, a vast supply of energy and an extremely low expectation of how much gold you will end up with.