Can scientists really turn lead into gold? Conflicting views. Who is correct?

Can scientists really turn lead into gold? Conflicting views. Who is correct? Does it depend on the process?

“Lead, on the other hand, is in a bad position to form gold. Using neutron bombardment you can move to the right on the chart, but if you follow the decay path from every heavy isotope of lead, they all lead back to either lead or bismuth. So, using the one and only technique available to us, we definitely cannot turn lead into gold. Not even a little bit. Platinum and one fairly rare isotope of mercury, sure. But not lead.”

“In nature, new elements are created by adding protons and neutrons to hydrogen atoms within the nuclear reactor of a star, producing increasingly heavier elements, up to iron (atomic number 26). This process is called nucleosynthesis. Elements heavier than iron are formed in the stellar explosion of a supernova. In a supernova gold may be made into lead, but not the other way around.”

"Transmutation of lead into gold isn’t just theoretically possible - it has been achieved! 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. "

I look forward to your feedback.

Wikipedia says it is possible
“Nuclear experiments have successfully transmuted lead into gold, but the expense far exceeds any gain”

“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.[7] It would be easier to convert gold into lead via neutron capture and beta decay by leaving gold in a nuclear reactor for a long period of time.
Glenn Seaborg produced several thousand atoms of gold from bismuth, but at a net loss.
More information on gold synthesis, see Synthesis of precious metals.
197Au + n → 198Au (halflife 2.7 days) → 198Hg + n → 199Hg + n → 200Hg + n → 201Hg + n → 202Hg + n → 203Hg (halflife 47 days) → 203Tl + n → 204Tl (halflife 3.8 years) → 204Pb (halflife 1.4x1017 years)”

With enough energy input and the right know how, I think lead into gold MAY be (theoretically)* possible… but if the process is so expensive that the cost far outpaces the value of the gold produced, what’s the point?

*I am not claiming that the “know how” currently exists.

I can turn lead into as much gold as you would like. It doesn’t take a whole lot of know how.

Of course, it will cost you $1,500 for each ounce of gold you would like since I need to make some profit in order to make it worth my while.

Why? How much do those scientists charge?

Wikipedia’s source for this is the article you posted in the OP.
I’d like to see an additional cite for this. Google searches all come up with the pages that ultimately cite the same quote from without any additional sources or giving the details of the decay path involved.


Is this a flat rate or does it fluctuate with the market? :smiley:

Radioactive isotopes will spontaneously decay into other isotopes by various processes: alpha emission, beta emission, etc. The one stable gold isotope isn’t an end product of any decay chain started by isotopes you get from adding neutrons to lead, and so there’s no “easy” way to go from lead to gold (in the same way that there is from uranium to plutonium).

Nevertheless, if you shoot atoms with enough energy, or perhaps some light isotopes, they split apart in all kinds of weird ways, and it’s just possible that by doing so you could end up with a handful of gold atoms.

It’s obviously possible to do in principle, since all atoms are all made from the same basic components, and so you can always tear apart some lead atoms and put it back together into gold (assuming sufficiently advanced technology). Whether anyone’s actually done it before… no idea.

This was covered by the Cecil fairly well

My addition is that it seems the reason for the myth about transmutation being

  • to the right* and being only to the same element , or one up, appears to be similar to the enrichment of uranium, for the aims and purposes of making nuclear power stations fuel. (or bomb fuel.)

Here, they had the intention of

  • keeping the fuel pure and long life time. That really restricts it to a minimal neutron count change
  • keeping the process fast (kg per hour resulting ) and low energy… low energy neutrons, low temperature… hence low power… and practical…
  • keeping it single step, in and out… so that the behavior is well known, easily controlled, not able to go critical…
    It may be that someone had the opinion that there is no other material than uranium which could be enriched… because “if you enriched something else, it would be unstable and therefore not be usable”… basically they had the opinion uranium was the Goldilocks atom for the nuclear industry… but remember this was for making power stations, and the power used to make the fuel must be small… uranium may well be the one fuel atom that doesn’t take much power to enrich.

You can do it cheaper - with an old fashioned printing press, which can miraculously turn half a ton of lead type into as much gold as you like. Mind you it does require some know how, or rather some talent, and quite a bit of work. But it’s been done :slight_smile:

Every nuclear reaction can be run in reverse, at least in theory; they won’t work spontaneously, since you’ll generally have to add energy, but it can be done. So if you can get lead from gold, you can get gold from lead.

You might also have to be really quick with some successive steps. :slight_smile:

I must say, I was under the impression that this had been done, but the “cites” in the article (that Wikipedia is relying upon) are disconcertingly vague, and the article has a much more authoritative feel to it (but still no proper cites). Cecil does not mention starting from lead at all. Unless someone find a more authoritative cite, it looks like the answer is no.

In fact, I am not sure that it is true that medieval or ancient alchemists were ever particularly focused on starting from lead. They would have been happy to make gold from anything they could. More often you hear that they were trying to turn base metals into gold, where “base metal” means any metal that is relatively cheap and that (unlike gold) tends to corrode. In practice they seem to have made a lot of use of mercury in their experiments, and it appears that we really can make gold from mercury now.