If we wish to manufacture gold, the most helpful metal to start with is mercury. Gold is element 79 and mercury is element 80, which means that there is only a slight difference between their atomic structures. The mercury atom has one more proton in its nucleus and the corresponding electron in the outer (known as F shell) orbit.
As the diagram shows, all other shells (from atom A to E) have the same number of electrons in both mercury and gold. So, theoretically, if we can expel one proton from the nucleus of an atom of mercury, we have transmuted it into an atom of gold. The process is difficult since an atom of mercury has eighty electrons; eighty orbits have to be broken through as well as the electric field round the nucleus. The first experiment was, however, carried out years ago at the Physical-Technical State Institute of Berlin. The bombarding particles were given a high speed by means of a field of 30,000 volts, and a small, but observable quantity of gold was produced from quicksilver. Unfortunately, such laboratory transmutation can never be reproduced on a commercial scale.
It is tempting to laugh off medieval alchemists as greedy eccentrics, who sought methods for forming gold out of cheaper metals. But one ought to give them credit for what they did in the process of searching. These alchemists discovered strong acids like hydrochloric acid, nitric acid and sulfuric acid which are far more useful today then gold could possibly be. The alchemists should have been acclaimed for these revolutionary discoveries. Instead they were sneered at for their failure to make gold out of plentiful metals like mercury.
Mercury (element) (Wikipedia)
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