Hacking Alchemy: Turning Household Materials into Gold

A workshop from EMF 2022 by Yannick

On Saturday June 4, 2022 at in Workshop 5

Turning ordinary materials into precious silver or gold has been the ultimate goal of alchemy for centuries. The mythical "Philosopher's stone" was thought to be the missing key needed for that, but much to the disappointment of generations of alchemists, the elusive Stone was never found, and the promise of unlimited wealth remained a dream. Until less than a century ago.

When British physicist James Chadwick discovered the nature of the neutron in 1932, it soon became apparent that these subatomic particles can change the composition of an atom's nucleus. By adding neutrons to a nucleus, or removing neutrons from a nucleus, the atom can be made unstable and forced to undergo changes, now known as radioactive decay. These nuclear reactions can change an isotope of an element into another isotope of the same element, or even into an entirely different element. By choosing nuclear reactions and decays carefully, it becomes possible to turn other materials into gold. Traditionally, nuclear reactions require a very large and expensive nuclear reactor or particle accelerator, but a clever hacker doesn't need any of these!

This workshop starts with a 30 minute entry level introduction to nuclear physics to explain attendees the scientific principles of elemental transmutation. Attendees then build together their own Philosopher's stone with components that can be found in any hardware store, and finally use it to transmute (a few atoms) of liquid mercury into gold. After the workshop, attendees have the option to take their creation home.