Scientific speed dating
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.
When a high-speed nucleus in the beam collided with a bismuth atom, it sheared off part of the bismuth nucleus, leaving a slightly diminished atom behind.
But despite the alchemists’ intellectual firepower and experimental acumen, the philosopher’s stone lay forever out of reach.
The problem, Principe says, is that the alchemists did not yet know that lead and gold were different atomic elements—the periodic table was still hundreds of years away.
The same process would work for lead, but isolating the gold at the end of the reaction would prove much more difficult, says David J.
Morrissey, now of Michigan State University, one of the scientists who conducted the research.
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For hundreds of years alchemists toiled in their laboratories to produce a mythical substance known as the philosopher’s stone.