The Alchemists worked hard to transform lead into gold. It did not work. But in the 20th-century gold was transmuted into lead. How did this happen and where?

1 Answer
Feb 5, 2018

The process is called Neutron capture, aided by Beta decay...


...and it happens in particle accelerator experiments, and can also happen in nuclear reactors.

During nuclear reactions, a lot of neutrons go whizzing around. Nuclei of gold atoms (atomic number 79) can capture some of these. These extra neutrons can then undergo Beta decay, converting themselves into protons and releasing electrons. Boom, you suddenly have a nucleus with 82 protons, which is lead.

Actual alchemy has also been demonstrated, but it turns out that all of the energy required to make it happen renders the process much more expensive than the value of gold that would be produced.