View Full Version : Nuclear Transmutation: History

03-14-2012, 10:21 AM
While chatting with nav2010 about transmutation I realised that I know very little of the physics involved.

I found an article, “Nuclear Transmutation”, on wiki and below is the history chapter:

The term transmutation dates back to alchemy. Alchemists pursued the philosopher's stone, capable of chrysopoeia – the
transformation of base metals into gold. While alchemists often understood chrysopoeia as a metaphor for a mystical, or religious
process, some practitioners adopted a literal interpretation, and tried to make gold through physical experiment. The
impossibility of the metallic transmutation had been debated amongst alchemists, philosophers and scientists since the middle
ages. Pseudo-alchemical transmutation was outlawed and publicly mocked beginning in the fourteenth century. Alchemists like
Michael Maier and Heinrich Khunrath wrote tracts exposing fraudulent claims of gold making. By the 1720's, there were no longer
any respectable figures pursuing the physical transmutation of substances into gold.[1] Antoine Lavoisier, in the 18th century,
replaced the alchemical theory of elements with the modern theory of chemical elements, and John Dalton further developed the
notion of atoms (from the alchemical theory of corpuscles) to explain various chemical processes. The disintegration of atoms is a
distinct process involving much greater energies than could be achieved by alchemists.

It was first consciously applied to modern physics by Frederick Soddy when he, along with Ernest Rutherford, discovered that
radioactive thorium was converting itself into radium in 1901. At the moment of realization, Soddy later recalled, he shouted out:

"Rutherford, this is transmutation!"

Rutherford snapped back,

"For Christ's sake, Soddy, don't call it transmutation. They'll have our heads off as alchemists."

Rutherford and Soddy were observing natural transmutation as a part of radioactive decay of the alpha decay type. However in
1917, Rutherford was able to accomplish transmutation of nitrogen into oxygen, using alpha particles directed at nitrogen
14N + α → 17O + p. This was the first observation of a nuclear reaction, that is, a reaction in which particles from one decay are
used to transform another atomic nucleus. Eventually, in 1932, a fully artificial nuclear reaction and nuclear transmutation was
achieved by Rutherford's colleagues John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, who used artificially accelerated protons against lithium-7
to split the nucleus into two alpha particles. The feat was popularly known as "splitting the atom," although it was not the
modern nuclear fission reaction later discovered in heavy elements.[3]

Later in the twentieth century the transmutation of elements within stars was elaborated, accounting for the relative abundance
of elements in the universe. In their 1957 paper Synthesis of the Elements in Stars,[4] William Alfred Fowler, Margaret Burbidge,
Geoffrey Burbidge, and Fred Hoyle explained how the abundances of essentially all but the lightest chemical elements could be
explained by the process of nucleosynthesis in stars.

Author Ken Croswell summarised their discoveries thus:

Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler, Hoyle
Took the stars and made them toil:
Carbon, copper, gold, and lead
Formed in stars, is what they said

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.[6] 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.

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)

Source: Nuclear Transmutation Wikipedea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_transmutation)


03-14-2012, 10:47 AM
As it was mentioned in the above above post, below is the wiki entry for Chrysopoeia:

In alchemy, the term chrysopoeia means transmutation into gold (from the Greek khrusōn, gold, and
poiēin, to make), although it is also symbolically used to indicate the philosopher's stone as the completion
of the Great Work.

The word was used in the title of an alchemical textbook, the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, which was
probably written in the late hellenistic period, although it gained wider fame only in the middle ages. The
book is mainly centred around the idea of "one the all" (en to pan), a concept that is related to ouroboros and
to hermetic wisdom. Stephen of Alexandria wrote a De Chrysopoeia. Chrysopoeia is also a 1515 poem by
Giovanni Augurello.

Source: Chrysopoeia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysopoeia)

and following on with the thread...

Cleopatra the Alchemist

Cleopatra the Alchemist (3rd or 4th century), was an Egyptian alchemist and author. The dates of her
life and death are unknown, but she was active in Alexandria in the 3rd century or the 4th century.

Cleopatra is a pseudonym for an author, whose real name has been lost. She is not the same person as
Cleopatra VII, none-the-less she may be referred to as Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt in some later works. One
example of this can be found in Basillica Philosophica by Johann Daniel Mylius (1618), where her seal is
pictured alongside the motto: "The divine is hidden from the people according to the wisdom of the Lord".[1]
Cleopatra is also used as a character within the dialogue of the alchemical texts themselves.

Cleopatra was a foundational figure in alchemy, pre-dating Zosimos of Panopolis. Michael Maier names her
as one of the four women that knew how to make the philosopher's stone, along with Maria the Jewess,
Medera, and Taphnutia.[2] Cleopatra was mentioned with great respect in the Arabic encyclopedia Kitab-
Fihrist from 988. She is most noted for the text Chrysopeia of Cleopatra which contains many emblems
later developed and used within gnostic and hermetic philosophy. An example is the serpent of Eden as a
symbol of knowledge, Ouroborus, and another is the eightbanded star. Her work also contained several
descriptions and drawings of the technical process of furnaces. She is sometimes credited with the
invention of the alembic.[3]

Souce: Cleopatra the Alchemist Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra_the_Alchemist)