Manufacturing Gold

Why haven’t we figured out how to manufacture gold? It seems to me that if we can manufacture everything from gem-quality diamonds to carbon nanotubes, gold just shouldn’t be so difficult to create.

Gem quality diamonds and carbon nanotubes are made by changing one form of carbon into another form of carbon.

The manufacture of gold would require the transmutation of elements - it isn’t impossible, but it is very expensive and results in a the production of an incredibly tiny amount of gold - it is easier and much cheaper to just dig it out of the ground (unlike carbon nanotubes, which are rare in nature).

It’s already been done with a particle accelerator.
Here is a guote from the Gold Rush Chronicles website:

Anyone who would ask why we haven’t “figured out how to manufacture gold” and thinks that elemental gold “just shouldn’t be so difficult to create” would benefit from taking an introductory chemistry course.

[sub]I hope this doesn’t come across as snarky, as it is not intended to be such.[/sub]

oh, I don’t know robby. We can create elemental hydrogen and oxygen from water…

No, we can’t.

What “we” can do is separate Hydrogen and Oxygen from the common compound dihydrogeneous oxygen H20 (aka, water). We can also separate gold from compounds containing gold, but gold does not tend to occur in these compounds naturally – many of these compounds listed are man made. Gold is most comonly found in nature either “free” (as in quartz) or alloyed with another metal.

What you are asking is, “Why can’t we create elemental gold?” You might as well ask why we can’t create elemental mercury.

I went to a lecture in 2000 by Wolfgang Ketterle from MIT (who later won a Nobel Prize in 2001 for his work) on Bose-Einstein condensation. More technical types will be along to correct me, but the basic idea was that when matter approaches absolute zero, it reaches a state in which the quantum levels are in “lock step” with each other. This was predicted by Bose and Eistien and hence is called Bose-Einstein condensation. When brought back up to temp, the atoms will shift back to their individual elements. Interestingly, though, he found that by seeding the Bose-Einstein condensate with an element as it was returning to normal matter would cause all of the previous elements to revert to that seeded element. In other words, you could start with carbon, bring the element down to near-absolute zero, seed it with gold, and voila! Transmutation! He refered to this as a “snowball effect.”

Mind you, I’ve probably mangled all of this horribly. Beyond a couple years of college physics, I lacked the skills to fully comprehend what was going on. Cool stuff, though, from what I’d gathered. And it does allow for a way beyond a particle accelerator. Before you run out and buy a really good refrigerator, though, they were only working with a few million atoms, laser refrigeration, and lots of high tech stuff. The cost/benefit ratio is stilll a big factor.

sailorbychance: The upshot of the problem is this:

Gold atoms are scarce.

Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon atoms are comparatively plentiful.

It would be like trying to extract $1,000-bills (gold) from a pile of random money, or trying to extract $1-bills (hydrogen). There are just always going to be a lot more ones lying around than thousands.

Level3Navigator, the snowball effect and atomic transmutation from BEC sounds interesting. However, I could not find fruitful search results from google. Could you provide some references please? I want to learn more about the subject.

Here’s another approach to acquiring gold. If I remember correctly, there are about 40 pounds of gold in a cubic MILE of ocean. (Sorry for not being metric - okay there are abpout 18 kilograms of gold in roughly 4 billion cubic meters of sea water or 4 trillion liters of sea water).
18 kilograms of WATER would have a volume of 18 liters.
18 kilograms of gold (which is 19.3 times denser than water), would have a volume of just under 1 liter.
So, basically you are trying to extract something that is 1 part in 4 trillion - pretty rough method isn’t it?
Then again, let us suppose you find a practical way to extract gold from seawater. At what point does the gold obtained become so plentiful that this new method succeedds in dropping the price of gold? Self-defeating isn’t it?
Then again, did you ask the question out a utilitarian concern? In other words, could we ever “manufacture” enough gold so nobody needs any more of it?
Though gold has its uses, I’d still say conventional methods - panning, digging, etc will probably be around a LONG while.

Skeptico, thanks for forcing me to do more research on this. My original descriptions were slightly off, but they were somewhere in the ballpark. The official term for this is "matter wave amplification."Perhaps that will help with your googling.

Here are some sites I found:

In layman’s English:

Dr. Ketterle and team’s article (more technical):

The notes from the lecture I attended:

Note comments in these sites regarding the seed size and growth. That is what my mind was recalling from the lecture.

It looks like a lot of this work is done not only at MIT, but also at Boulder, Colorado and the University of Tokyo.

Cool stuff (pun intended)!

After re-reading my first post, I should correct this: You start with gold, bring it down to a BEC, and add other super-cooled atoms (like carbon, for instance). And you will then observe that your gold “seed” has grown.

Once the matter enters the BEC state, how does it remember what it is supposed to be?

Mangetout asked:

And that is the Nobel prize winning question… Is this a majority vote (i.e. the most atoms win)? The original element of the seed wins? It seems they are not yet seeing enough of the snowball effect to find out, i.e. it seems the seed growth is rather small. When I asked Dr. Ketterle what stopped the snowball effect, he responded, “You run out of snow!” It seemes they weren’t playing with a whole lot of atoms when they noticed this effect.

Again, I lack the physics doctorate to answer this question. Anyone local to MIT, Univ. of Colorado, or Univ. of Tokyo want to go sign up a professor or two on the SDMB?