One of the dreams of early chemists was to figure out how to transform lead into gold. Lead has 82 protons in its core whereas gold contains only 79. So conceivably all you’d need to do is remove three protons and presto! So how do you do that? Since protons can’t be stripped off with a chemical reaction, you need to smack it hard with something to knock off just the right amount. Lead, however, if a very stable element, so it’s going to require a lot of energy to remove three protons. How about a linear accelerator?
In a linear accelerator, a charged particle moves through a series of tubes that are charged by electrical and/or magnetic fields. The accelerated particle smacks the target, knocking free protons or neutrons and making a new element (or isotope). Glenn Seaborg (I actually met him!), 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, actually succeeded in transmuting a tiny quantity of lead into gold in 1980. He actually discovered (or helped discover) 10 elements on the periodic table, 100 new isotopes, and while he was still living (which usually doesn’t happen), they named an element after him (Seaborgium – 106).
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