I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Making Gold from Lead - The Chemistry of Alchemy

Gold - Todd HelmenstineBack before the "good old days," the middle ages and before, chemists were known as alchemists. They combined chemistry and philosophy. Theirs was the search for the Philosopher's Stone and the making of Gold from Lead. They did not have the advantages we have today with particle accelerators and such, in fact, they did not even really know quite what an element was. (Alchemy Symbol for Gold, Todd Helmenstine)

Lead - Todd HelmenstineAlchemy was an influential philosophical tradition with early practitioners’ claiming profound powers. In the West, alchemy is recognized as a precursor to the development of modern chemistry and medicine. Alchemists incorporated a spectrum of knowledge of chemical properties and practices from ancient times, establishing a framework of theory, terminology, experimental processes and laboratory techniques that is still recognized today. An alchemists' shop was often the place where everyone would go for medicine. Even today in many parts of Europe you still go to "the chemist," for medicine, rather than to a "drug store." Alchemy differs from modern science by the inclusion of Hermetic principles and its practices related to mythology, religion, and spirituality. (Alchemy Symbol for Lead, Todd Helmenstine)

The 8th-century alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan analyzed each element relative to the four basic qualities; Fire, Earth, Water and Air. Fire was both hot and dry, earth cold and dry, water cold and moist, and air hot and moist. He theorized that every metal was a combination of these four principles and the transmutation of one metal into another could be affected by the rearrangement of its basic qualities, thus the possibility of turning Lead into Gold. By the 17th century alchemy was practiced by the scientists of the day. This included Isaac Newton - the man most often cited as the father of modern physics, who devoted considerably more of his writings to the study of alchemy than to the laws of physics. The career of Robert Boyle also illustrates the more respected view of alchemy. Boyle has long been considered the first major modern chemist, one whose quantitative and careful laboratory practice made him the supposed antithesis of alchemy. But some 17th century documents show that Boyle was an avid alchemy practitioner.

Alchemists searched for the Philosopher's Stone
To Turn Lead into Gold
And to Find the Elixir of Life

The philosopher's stone is a legendary alchemical substance said to be capable of turning Lead into Gold. The Elixir of Life, a legendary potion that grants the drinker eternal life and/or eternal youth, was also sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone. For centuries, it was the most sought-after goal in Western alchemy. The philosopher's stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest. However, making new Gold was of great concern to the kings since it would have reduced their wealth. Thus transmutation was considered a crime - and why alchemists often had to do their research in secret.

Lead (atomic number 82) and Gold (79) are defined as elements by the number of protons they possess. Gold is one of the seven metals of alchemy (gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron and tin). For the alchemist, it represented the perfection of all matter on any level, including that of the mind, spirit, and soul. Lead is the first and oldest of the seven alchemic metals. Changing one element into another requires changing the number of protons in the nucleus. The number of protons cannot be altered by any chemical means. However, protons may be added or removed using physical means (high energy particle collisions) thereby changing one element into another. Because lead is stable, forcing it to release three protons requires a vast input of energy, such that the cost of transmuting it greatly surpasses the value of the resulting gold.

The synthesis of noble metals enjoyed brief popularity in the 20th century when physicists were able to convert Platinum atoms into Gold atoms via a nuclear reaction. However, the new Gold atoms, being unstable isotopes, lasted for under five seconds before they broke apart. Today particle accelerators routinely transmute elements. A charged particle is accelerated using electrical and/or magnetic fields. The accelerated particle impacts a target material, potentially freeing protons or neutrons and making another element or isotope. Nuclear reactors also can be used to create new elements, adding protons and neutrons to an existing element high in the Periodic Table.

Although the alchemist was never successful in creating new Gold, his efforts helped us better understand God's creation. As is mentioned at the top of my blog in Deuteronomy 29:29, God has revealed some of His creation to us and we are to use that knowledge to learn and grow in our understanding if Him, our Great and Infinite God.

Ecclesiastes 7:25a & 27b (NLT) - "I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things."... 27b "looking at the matter from every possible angle."

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