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That Time Someone Actually Achieved the Alchemists’ Dream of Turning a Different Material Into Gold

Alchemists worked for centuries to achieve the production of gold, in order to enrich themselves and their sponsors. It finally happened in 1980, but didn't change the world much at all. Glenn T. Seaborg was a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project, ran the Atomic Energy Commission, and discovered ten new elements and more than 100 isotopes.  

In 1980, the Seaborg and a group of other scientists used a particle accelerator to propel beams of carbon and neon nuclei at nearly light speed into foils of the heavy metal bismuth- you know, the stuff you find in relatively large quantities in Peptol-Bismol, used for shotgun pellets, and a variety of other applications.

Why bismuth, rather than the originally planned lead? It is simply easier to isolate gold from bismuth than it is from lead. However, producing gold from lead would have been no more difficult.

As for the result, when they were rifling through the carnage that was the result of the high speed collision between neon, carbon, and bismuth, the physicists discovered the they had successfully made several isotopes of gold.

Was it worth the effort? Certainly not financially. Running a particle accelerator isn't cheap. But the experiment showed that it could be done, and considering the other work at such facilities, doesn't need to be done again. Read the story of the alchemist dream come true at Today I Found Out. 


Reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode where they lock themselves in a cave for 50 years or whatever with gold that they finally learned in the future was worthless because humanity had found an inexpensive way to produce it.

Anyone else remember this or am I making it up?
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