Nuclear Chemistry

Chemistry Inside the Atom

How is nuclear chemistry related to the alchemists’ goal of transmutation?

Alchemists sought a way to turn common metals into gold, which we now know is not possible to do in any simple way. The reason is that transmutation would involve converting one element into another, which can’t be done by simple chemical processes. It would require a nuclear reaction to take place; either a heavy nucleus would have to divide into a gold nucleus and another byproduct, or two lighter nuclei would have to combine to form one of gold. Neither of these things happen readily. If early alchemists had recognized the distinction between more ordinary chemical reactions and the nuclear reaction they were looking for, it would likely have saved a lot of time and effort.


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