Jun 2, 2023

Turning Lead Into Gold

Posted by in categories: chemistry, particle physics

Year 2021 😗😁

They were indeed correct that lead could be turned into gold — even if they were dead wrong about how it could be done. Now, modern science routinely takes us far beyond even the wildest dreams of the alchemists.

One of the most famous stories of nuclear transmutation comes from the 1970s, when nuclear chemist and Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory alongside colleague Walt Loveland and then-graduate student Dave Morrissey. The scientists were using a super-heavy ion linear accelerator to bombard atoms with ions as heavy as uranium at relativistic speeds. “Among the ones we bombarded was lead-208,” Loveland says.

Accelerating the ions close to the speed of light allowed them to study nuclear reaction mechanisms. “We would measure the products, mostly concentrating on the yields,” Loveland says. Some of those yields were gold. “It was all relatively routine stuff. Then Seaborg said, ‘Hey, look at this — you’re transforming lead into gold, doing the alchemists’ dream reaction.’” He suggested that Morrissey write a paper on the research and present it at the upcoming American Chemical Society annual meeting in Miami.

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