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Turning Lead into Gold: Is Modern Alchemy Dead ?

Turning Lead into Gold: Is Modern Alchemy Dead ? - Chemistry Forum

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Default Turning Lead into Gold: Is Modern Alchemy Dead ?



Redgrove, Herbert Stanley, 1887-1943 . Alchemy: Ancient and Modern
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library


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Chapter 7
CHAPTER VII
MODERN ALCHEMY


§ 85. "Modern Alchemy".
Correctly speaking, there is no such thing as "Modern Alchemy"; not
that Mysticism is dead, or that men no longer seek to apply the
principles of Mysticism to phenomena on the physical plane, but they
do so after another manner from that of the alchemists. A new science,
however, is born amongst us, closely related on the one hand to
Chemistry, on the other to Physics, but dealing with changes more
profound and reactions more deeply seated than are dealt with by
either of these; a science as yet without a name, unless it be the not
altogether satisfactory one of "Radioactivity." It is this science,
or, perhaps we should say, a certain aspect of it, to which we refer
(it may be fantastically) by the expression "Modern Alchemy": the
aptness of the title we hope to make plain in the course of the
present chapter.




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§ 86. X-Ray's and Becquerel rays.
As is commonly known, what are called X-rays are produced when an
electric discharge is passed through a high-vacuum tube. It has been
shown that these rays are a series of irregular pulses in the ether,
which are set up when the kathode particles strike the walls of the
glass vacuum




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tube,1 and it was found that more powerful effects can be produced by
inserting a disc of platinum in the path of the kathode particles. It
was M. Becquerel who first discovered that there are substances which
naturally emit radiations similar to X-rays. He found that uranium
compounds affected a photographic plate from which they were carefully
screened, and he also showed that these uranium radiations, or
"Becquerel rays," resemble X-rays in other particulars. It was already
known that certain substances fluoresce (emit light) in the dark after
having been exposed to sunlight, and it was thought at first that the
above phenomenon exhibited by uranium salts was of a like nature,
since certain uranium salts are fluorescent; but M. Becquerel found
that uranium salts which had never been exposed to sunlight were still
capable of affecting a photographic plate, and that this remarkable
property was possessed by all uranium salts, whether fluorescent or
not. This phenomenon is known as "radioactivity," and bodies which
exhibit it are said to be "radioactive." Schmidt found that thorium
compounds possess a similar property, and Professor Rutherford showed
that thorium compounds evolved also something resembling a gas. He
called this an "emanation."


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§ 87. The Discovery of Radium.
Mme. Curie2 determined the radioactivity of many uranium and
thorium compounds, and found that there was a proportion between the
radioactivity




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of such compounds and the quantity of uranium or thorium in them, with
the remarkable exception of certain natural ores, which had a
radioactivity much in excess of the normal, and, indeed, in certain
cases, much greater than pure uranium. In order to throw some light on
this matter, Mme. Curie prepared one of these ores by a chemical
process and found that it possessed a normal radioactivity. The only
logical conclusion to be drawn from these facts was that the ores in
question must contain some unknown, highly radioactive substance, and
the Curies were able, after very considerable labour, to extract from
pitchblende (the ore with the greatest radioactivity) minute
quantities of the salts of two new elements -- which they named
"Polonium" and "Radium" respectively -- both of which were extremely
radioactive.

M. Debierne has obtained a third radioactive substance from
pitchblende, which he has called "actinium."


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§ 88. Chemical Properties of Radium.
Radium is an element resembling calcium, strontium, and barium in
chemical properties; its atomic weight was determined by Mme. Curie,
and found to be about 225, according to her first experiments; a
redetermination gave a slightly higher value, which has been confirmed
by a further investigation carried out by Sir T. E. Thorpe. 3 Radium
gives a




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characteristic spectrum, and is intensely radioactive. It should be
noted that up to the middle of the year 1910 the element radium itself
had not been prepared; in all the experiments carried out radium salts
were employed (i.e., certain compounds of radium with other elements),
generally radium chloride and radium bromide. In that year, however,
Mme. Curie, in conjunction with M. Debierne, obtained the free metal.
It is described as a white, shining metal resembling the other
alkaline earth metals. It reacts very violently with water, chars
paper with which it is allowed to come in contact, and blackens in the
air, probably owing to the formation of a nitride. It fuses at 700o
C., and is more volatile than barium.4


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§ 89. The Radioactivity of Radium.
Radium salts give off three distinct sorts of rays, referred to by
the Greek letters , , . The -rays have been shown to consist of of
electrically charged (positive) particles, with a mass approximately
equal to that of four hydrogen atoms; they are slightly deviated by a
magnetic field, and do not possess great penetrative power. The -rays
are similar to the kathode rays, and consist of (negative) electrons;
they are strongly deviated by a magnetic field, in a direction
opposite to that in which the -particles are deviated, and possess
medium penetrative power, passing for the most part through a thin
sheet of metal. The -rays resemble X-rays; they possess




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great penetrative power, and are not deviated by a magnetic field. The
difference in the effect of the magnetic field on these rays, and the
difference in their penetrative power, led to their detection and
allows of their separate examination. Radium salts emit also an
emanation, which tends to become occluded in the solid salt, but can
be conveniently liberated by dissolving the salt in water, or by
heating it. The emanation exhibits the characteristic properties of a
gas, it obeys Boyle's Law (i.e., its volume varies inversely with its
pressure), and it can be condensed to a liquid at low temperatures;
its density as determined by the diffusion method is about 100.
Attempts to prepare chemical compounds of the emanation have failed,
and in this respect it resembles the rare gases of the atmosphere --
helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon -- whence it is probable that
its molecules are monatomic, so that a density of 100 would give its
atomic weight as 200.5 As can be seen from the table on pp. 106, 107,
an atomic weight of about 220 corresponds to a position in the column
containing the rare gases in the periodic system. That the emanation
actually has an atomic weight of these dimensions was confirmed by
further experiments carried out by the late Sir William Ramsay and Dr.
R. W. Gray.6 These chemists determined the density of the emanation by
actually weighing minute quantities of known volume of the substance,
sealed up in small capillary tubes, a specially sensitive


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balance being employed. Values for the density varying from 108 to
113½, corresponding to values for the atomic weight varying from 216
to 227, were thereby: obtained. Sir William Ramsay, therefore,
considered that there could no longer be any doubt that the emanation
was one of the elements of the group of chemically inert gases. He
proposed to call it Niton, and, for reasons which we shall note later,
considered that in all probability it had an atomic weight of about
222½.


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§ 90. The Disintegration of the Radium Atom.
Radium salts possess another very remarkable property, namely, that
of continuously emitting light and heat. It seemed, at first, that
here was a startling contradiction to the law of the conservation of
energy, but the whole mystery becomes comparatively clear in terms of
the corpuscular or the electronic theory of matter. The radium-atom is
a system of a large number (see § 81) of corpuscles or electrons, and
contains in virtue of their motion an enormous amount of energy. But
it is known from Chemistry that atomic systems (i.e., molecules) which
contain very much energy are unstable and liable to explode. The same
law holds good on the more interior plane -- the radium-atom is liable
to, and actually does, explode. And the result? Energy is set free,
and manifests itself partly as heat and light. Some free electrons are
shot off (the -rays), which, striking the undecomposed particles of
salt, give rise to pulses in the ether (the -rays),7 just as the
kathode particles give rise to X-rays when they




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strike the walls of the vacuum tube or a platinum disc placed in their
path. The and -rays do not, however, result immediately from the
exploding radium-atoms, the initial products being the emanation and
one -particle from each radium-atom destroyed.


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§ 91. Induced Radioactivity.
Radium salts have the property of causing surrounding objects to
become temporally radioactive. This "induced radioactivity," as it may
be called, is found to be due to the emanation, which is itself
radioactive (it emits -rays only), and is decomposed into minute
traces of solid radioactive deposits. By examining the rate of decay
of the activity of the deposit, it has been found that it is
undergoing a series of sub-atomic changes, the products being termed
Radium A, B, C, &c. It has been proved that all the and -rays emitted
by radium salts are really due to certain of these secondary products.
Radium F is thought to be identical with Polonium (§ 87). Another
product is also obtained by these decompositions, with which we shall
deal later (§ 94).


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§ 92. Properties of Uranium and Thorium.
Uranium and thorium differ in one important respect from radium,
inasmuch as the first product of the decomposition of the uranium and
thorium atoms is in both cases solid. Sir William Crookes8 was able to
separate from uranium salts by chemical means a small quantity of an
intensely radioactive substance, which he called Uranium X, the
residual uranium having lost most of its activity; and M.




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Becquerel, on repeating the experiment, found that the activity of the
residual uranium was slowly regained, whilst that of the uranium X
decayed. This is most simply explained by the theory that uranium
first changes into uranium X. It has been suggested that radium may be
the final product of the breaking up of the uranium-atom; at any rate,
it is quite certain that radium must be evolved in some way, as
otherwise there would be none in existence -- it would all have
decomposed. This suggestion has been experimentally confirmed, the
growth of radium in large quantities of a solution of purified uranyl
nitrate having been observed. Uranium gives no emanation. Thorium
probably gives at least three solid products -- Meso-thorium,
Radio-thorium, and Thorium X, the last of which yields an emanation
resembling that obtained from radium, but not identical with it.


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§ 93. The Radium Emanation.
We must now more fully consider the radium emanation -- a substance
with more astounding properties than even the radium compounds
themselves. By distilling off the emanation from some radium bromide,
and measuring the quantities of heat given off by the emanation and
the radium salt respectively, Professors Rutherford and Barnes 9
proved that nearly three-fourths of the total amount of heat given out
by a radium salt comes from the minute quantity of emanation that it
contains. The amount of energy liberated as heat during the decay of
the emanation is enormous; one cubic centimetre liberates about four




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million times as much heat as is obtained by the combustion of an
equal volume of hydrogen. Undoubtedly this must indicate some profound
change, and one may well ask, What is the ultimate product of the
decomposition of the emanation?


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§ 94. The Production of Helium from Radium.
It had been observed already that the radioactive minerals on
heating give off Helium -- a gaseous element, characterised by a
particular yellow line in its spectrum -- and it seemed not unlikely
that helium might be the ultimate decomposition product of the
emanation. A research to settle this point was undertaken by Sir
William Ramsay and Mr. Soddy,10 and a preliminary experiment having
confirmed the above speculation, they carried out further very careful
experiments. "The maximum amount of the emanation obtained from 50
milligrams of radium bromide was conveyed by means of oxygen into a
U-tube cooled in liquid air, and the latter was then extracted by the
pump." The spectrum was observed; it "was apparently a new one,
probably that of the emanation itself.... After standing from July 17
to 21 the helium spectrum appeared, and the characteristic lines were
observed." Sir William Ramsay performed a further experiment with a
similar result, in which the radium salt had been first of all heated
in a vacuum for some time, proving that the helium obtained could not
have been occluded in it; though the fact that the helium spectrum did
not immediately appear, in itself




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proves this point. Sir William Ramsay's results were confirmed by
further careful experiments by Sir James Dewar and other chemists. It
was suggested, therefore, that the -particle consists of an
electrically charged helium-atom, and not only is this view in
agreement with the value of the mass of this particle as determined
experimentally, but it has been completely demonstrated by Professor
Rutherford and Mr. Royds. These chemists performed an experiment in
which the emanation from about one-seventh of a gramme of radium was
enclosed in a thin-walled tube, through the walls of which the
-particles could pass, but which were impervious to gases. This tube
was surrounded by an outer jacket, which was evacuated. After a time
the presence of helium in the space between the inner tube and the
outer jacket was observed spectroscopically. 11 Now, the
emanation-atom results from the radium-atom by the expulsion of one
-particle; and since this latter consists of an electrically charged
helium-atom, it follows that the emanation must have an atomic weight
of 226-4, i.e., 222. This value is in agreement with Sir William
Ramsay's determination of the density of the emanation. We may
represent the degradation of the radium-atom, therefore, by the
following scheme: --








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§ 95. Nature of this Change.
Here, then, for the first time in the history of Chemistry, we have
the undoubted formation of one chemical element from another, for,
leaving out of the question the nature of the emanation, there can be
no doubt that radium is a chemical element. This is a point which must
be insisted upon, for it has been suggested that radium may be a
compound of helium with some unknown element; or, perhaps, a compound
of helium with lead, since it has been shown that lead is probably one
of the end products of the decomposition of radium. The following
considerations, however, show this view to be altogether untenable:
(i.) All attempts to prepare compounds of helium with other elements
have failed. (ii.) Radium possesses all the properties of a chemical
element; it has a characteristic spectrum, and falls in that column in
the Periodic Table with those elements which it resembles as to its
chemical properties. (iii.) The quantity of heat liberated on the
decomposition of the emanation is, as we have already indicated, out
of all proportion to that obtained even in the most violent chemical
reactions; and (iv.) one very important fact has been observed,
namely, that the rate of decay of the emanation is unaffected by even
extreme changes of temperature, whereas chemical actions are always
affected in rate by changes of temperature. It will also be advisable,
perhaps, to indicate some of the differences between helium and the
emanation. The latter is a heavy gas, condensable to a liquid by
liquid air (recently it has been solidified12); whereas helium




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is the lightest of all known gases with the exception of hydrogen and
has been liquefied only by the most persistent effort. 13 The
emanation, moreover, is radioactive, giving off -particles, whereas
helium does not possess this property.


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§ 96. Is this Change a true Transmutation?
It has been pointed out, however, that (in a sense) this change
(viz., of emanation into helium) is not quite what has been meant by
the a expression "transmutation of the elements"; for the reason that
it is a spontaneous change; no effort of ours can bring it about or
cause it to cease.14 But the fact of the change does go to prove that
the chemical elements are not the discrete units of matter that they
were supposed to be. And since it appears that all matter is
radioactive, although (save in these exceptional cases) in a very
slight degree, 15 we here have evidence of a process of evolution at
work among the chemical elements. The chemical elements are not
permanent; they are all undergoing change; and the common elements
merely mark those points where the rate of the evolutionary process is
at its slowest. (See also §§ 78 and 83.) Thus, the essential truth in
the old alchemistic doctrine of the growth of metals is vindicated,
for the metals do grow in the womb of Nature, although the process may
be far




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slower than appears to have been imagined by certain of the
alchemists,16 and although gold may not be the end product. As writes
Professor Sir W. Tilden: " . . . It appears that modern ideas as to
the genesis of the elements, and hence of all matter, stand in strong
contrast with those which chiefly prevailed among experimental
philosophers from the time of Newton, and seem to reflect in an
altered form the speculative views of the ancients." " . . . It seems
probable," he adds, "that the chemical elements, and hence all
material substances of which the earth, the sea, the air, and the host
of heavenly bodies are all composed, resulted from a change,
corresponding to condensation, in something of which we have no direct
and intimate knowledge. Some have imagined this primal essence of all
things to be identical with the ether of space. As yet we know nothing
with certainty, but it is thought that by means of the spectroscope
some stages of the operation may be seen in progress in the nebulæ and
stars...."17 We have


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next to consider whether there is any experimental evidence showing it
to be possible (using the phraseology of the alchemists) for man to
assist in Nature's work.


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§ 97. The Production of Neon from Emanation.
As we have already indicated above (§ 93), the radium emanation
contains a vast store of potential energy, and it was with the idea of
utilising this energy for bringing about chemical changes that Sir
William Ramsay18 undertook a research on the chemical action of this
substance -- a research with the most surprising and the most
interesting results, for the energy contained within the radium
emanation appeared to behave like a veritable Philosopher's Stone. The
first experiments were carried out on distilled water. It had already
been observed that the emanation decomposes water into its gaseous
elements, oxygen and hydrogen, and that the latter is always produced
in excess. These results were confirmed and the presence of hydrogen
peroxide was detected, explaining the formation of an excess of
hydrogen; it was also shown that the emanation brings about the
reverse change to some extent, causing oxygen end hydrogen to unite
with the production of water, until a position of equilibrium is




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attained. On examining spectroscopically the gas obtained by the
action of the emanation on water, after the removal of the ordinary
gases, a most surprising result was observed -- the gas showed a
brilliant spectrum of neon, accompanied with some faint helium lines.
A more careful experiment was carried out later by Sir William Ramsay
and Mr. Cameron, in which a silica bulb was employed instead of glass.
The spectrum of the residual gas after removing ordinary gases was
successfully photographed, and a large number of the neon lines
identified; helium was also present. The presence of neon could not be
explained, in Ramsay's opinion, by leakage of air into the apparatus,
as the percentage of neon in the air is not sufficiently high, whereas
this suggestion might be put forward in the case of argon. Moreover,
the neon could not have come from the aluminium of the electrodes (in
which it might be thought to have been occluded), as the sparking tube
had been used and tested before the experiment was carried out. The
authors conclude: "We must regard the transformation of emanation into
neon, in presence of water, as indisputably proved, and, if a
transmutation be defined as a transformation brought about at will, by
change of conditions, then this is the first case of transmutation of
which conclusive evidence is put forward." 19 However, Professor
Rutherford and Mr. Royds have been unable to confirm this result. They
describe 20 attempts to obtain neon by the action of emanation


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on water. Out of five experiments no neon was obtained, save in one
case in which a small air leak was discovered; and, since the authors
find that very minute quantities of this gas are sufficient to give a
clearly visible spectrum, they conclude that Ramsay's positive results
are due, after all, to leakage of air into the apparatus. But if this
is the true explanation of Ramsay's results, it is difficult to
understand why, in the case of the experiment with a solution of a
copper salt described below, the presence of neon was not detected,
for, if due to leakage, the proportions of the rare gases present
should presumably have been the same in all the experiments. Further
research seems necessary conclusively to settle the question.


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§ 98. Ramsay's Experiments on Copper.
The fact that an excess of hydrogen was produced when water was
decomposed by the emanation suggested to Sir William Ramsay and Mr.
Cameron that if a solution of a metallic salt was employed in place of
pure water, the free metal might be obtained. These "modern
alchemists," therefore, proceeded to investigate the action of radium
emanation on solutions of copper and lead salts, and again apparently
effected transmutations. They found on removing the copper from a
solution of a copper-salt which had been subjected to the action of
the emanation, and spectroscopically examining the residue, that a
considerable quantity of sodium was present, together with traces of
lithium; and the gas evolved in the case of a solution of copper
nitrate contained, along with much nitric oxide and a little nitrogen,
argon (which was detected spectroscopically), but no helium. It
certainly seemed like a dual transformation of




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copper into lithium and sodium, and emanation into argon. They also
observed that apparently carbon dioxide is continually evolved from an
acid solution of thorium nitrate (see below, § 100). It is worth while
noticing that helium, neon and argon occur in the same column in the
Periodic Table with emanation; lithium and sodium with copper, and
carbon with thorium; in each case the elements produced being of
lighter atomic weight than those decomposed.21 The authors make the
following suggestions: "(1) That helium and the -particle are not
identical; (2) that helium results from the `degradation' of the large
molecule of emanation by its bombardment with -particles; (3) that
this `degradation,' when the emanation is alone or mixed with oxygen
and hydrogen, results in the lowest member of the inactive series,
namely, helium; (4) that if particles of greater mass than hydrogen or
oxygen are associated with the emanation, namely, liquid water, then
the `degradation' of the emanation is less complete, and neon is
produced; (5) that when molecules of still greater weight and
complexity are present, as is the case when the emanation is dissolved
in a solution of copper sulphate, the product of `degradation' of the
emanation is argon. We are inclined to believe too [they say] that (6)
the copper also is involved in this process of degradation, and is
reduced to the lowest term of its series, namely, lithium; and at the
same time, inasmuch as the weight of the residue of alkali, produced
when copper nitrate is present, is double that obtained from the blank
experiment, or from water alone, the supposition is not excluded that
the


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chief product of the `degradation' of copper is sodium." 22


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§ 99. Further Experiments on Radium and Copper.
A little later Madame Curie and Mademoiselle Gleditsch 23 repeated
Cameron and Ramsay's experiments on copper salts, using, however,
platinum apparatus. They failed to detect lithium after the action of
the emanation, and think that Cameron and Ramsay's results may be due
to the glass vessels employed. Dr. Perman24 has investigated the
direct action of the emanation on copper and gold, and has failed to
detect any trace of lithium. The transmutation of copper into lithium,
therefore, must be regarded as unproved, but further research is
necessary before any conclusive statements can be made on the subject.


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§ 100. Ramsay's Experiments on Thorium and allied Metals.
In his presidential address to the Chemical Society, March 25,
1909, after having brought forward some exceedingly interesting
arguments for the possibility of transmutation, Sir William Ramsay
described some experiments which he had carried out on




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thorium and allied elements.25 It was found, as we have already stated
(§ 98), that, apparently, carbon-dioxide was continually evolved from
an acid solution of thorium nitrate, precautions being taken that the
gas was not produced from the grease on the stopcock employed, and it
also appeared that carbon-dioxide was produced by the action of radium
emanation on thorium nitrate. The action of radium emanation on
compounds (not containing carbon) of other members of the carbon
group, namely, silicon, zirconium and lead, was then investigated; in
the cases of zirconium nitrate and hydrofluosilicic acid,
carbon-dioxide was obtained; but in the case of lead chlorate the
amount of carbon dioxide was quite insignificant. Curiously enough,
the perchlorate of bismuth, a metal which belongs to the nitrogen
group of elements, also yielded carbon-dioxide when acted on by
emanation. Sir William Ramsay concludes his discussion of these
experiments as follows: "Such are the facts. No one is better aware
than I how insufficient the proof is. Many other experiments must be
made before it can confidently be asserted that certain elements, when
exposed to `concentrated energy,' undergo degradation into carbon."
Some such confirmatory experiments were carried out by Sir William
Ramsay and Mr. Francis L Usher, and they also described an experiment
with a compound of titanium. Their results confirm Sir William
Ramsay's former experiments. Carbon-dioxide was obtained in
appreciable quantities by the action of emanation on compounds


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of silicon, titanium, zirconium and thorium. In the case of lead, the
amount of carbon dioxide obtained was inappreciable. 26


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§ 101. The Possibility of Making Gold
It does not seem unlikely that if it is possible to "degrade"
elements, it may be possible to build them up. It has been suggested
that it might be possible to obtain, in this way, gold from silver,
since these two elements occur in the same column in the Periodic
Table; but the suggestion still awaits experimental confirmation. The
question arises, What would be the result if gold could be cheaply
produced? That gold is a metal admirably adapted for many purposes,
for which its scarcity prevents its use, must be admitted. But the
financial chaos which would follow if it were to be cheaply obtained
surpasses the ordinary imagination. It is a theme that ought to appeal
to a novelist of exceptional imaginative power. However, we need not
fear these results, for not only is radium extremely rare, far dearer
than gold, and on account of its instability will never be obtained in
large quantities, but, judging from the above-described experiments,
if, indeed, the radium emanation is the true Philosopher's Stone, the
quantity of gold that may be hoped for by its aid is extremely small.


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§ 102. The Significance of "Allotropy."
A very suggestive argument for the transmutation of the metals was
put forward by Professor Henry M. Howe, LL.D., in a paper entitled
"Allotropy or Transmutation?" read before the British Association
(Section B), Sheffield Meeting, 1910.




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Certain substances are known which, although differing in their
physical properties very markedly, behave chemically as if they were
one and the same element, giving rise to the same series of compounds.
Such substances, of which we may mention diamond, graphite and
charcoal (e.g., lampblack) -- all of which are known chemically as
"carbon" -- or, to take another example, yellow phosphorus (a yellow,
waxy, highly inflammable solid) and red phosphorus (a
difficultly-inflammable, dark red substance, probably possessing a
minutely crystalline structure), are, moreover, convertible one into
the other.27 It has been customary to refer to such substances as
different forms or allotropic modifications of the same element, and
not to regard them as being different elements. As Professor Howe
says, "If after defining `elements' as substances hitherto
indivisible, and different elements as those which differ in at least
some one property, and after asserting that the elements cannot be
transmuted into each other, we are confronted with the change from
diamond into lampblack, and with the facts, first, that each is
clearly


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indivisible hitherto and hence an element, and, second, that they
differ in every property, we try to escape in a circle by saying that
they are not different elements because they do change into each
other. In short, we limit the name `element' to indivisible substances
which cannot be transmuted into each other, and we define those which
do transmute as ipso facto one element, and then we say that the
elements cannot be transmuted. Is not this very like saying that, if
you call a calf's tail a leg, then a calf has five legs? And if it is
just to reply that calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg, is it
not equally just to reply that calling two transmutable elements one
element does not make them so?

"Is it philosophical to point to the fact that two such
transmutable elements yield but a single line of derivatives as proof
that they are one element? Is not this rather proof of the readiness,
indeed irresistibleness, of their transmutation? Does not this simply
mean that the derivativeless element, whenever it enters into
combination, inevitably transmutes into its mate which has
derivatives?28

According to the atomic theory the differences between what are
termed "allotropic modifications" are generally ascribed to
differences in the number and arrangement of the atoms constituting
the molecules of such "modifications," and not to any differences in
the atoms themselves. But we cannot argue that two such "allotropic
modifications" or elements which are transmutable into one another




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are one and the same element, because they possess the same atomic
weight, and different elements are distinguished by different atomic
weights; for the reason that, in the determination of atomic weights,
derivatives of such bodies are employed; hence, the value obtained is
the atomic weight of the element which forms derivatives, from which
that of its derivativeless mate may differ considerably for all we
know to the contrary, if we do, indeed, regard the atomic weights of
the elements as having any meaning beyond expressing the
inertia-ratios in which they combine one with another.

If we wish to distinguish between two such "allotropic
modifications" apart from any theoretical views concerning the nature
and constitution of matter, we can say that such "modifications" are
different because equal weights of them contain, or are equivalent to,
different quantities of energy,29 since the change of one "form" to
another takes place only with the evolution or absorption (as the case
may be) of heat. 30 But, according to modern views regarding the
nature of matter, this is the sole fundamental




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


-140-


difference between two different elements -- such are different
because equal weights of them contain or are equivalent to different
quantities of energy. The so-called "allotropic modifications of an
element," therefore, are just as much different elements as any other
different elements, and the change from one "modification" to another
is a true transmutation of the elements; the only distinction being
that what are called "allotropic modifications of the same element"
differ only slightly in respect of the energy they contain, and hence
are comparatively easy to convert one into the other. whereas
different elements (so called) differ very greatly from one another in
this respect, whence it is to be concluded that the transmutation of
one such element into another will only be attained by the utilisation
of energy in a very highly concentrated form, such as is evolved
simultaneously with the spontaneous decomposition of the radium
emanation.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


§ 103. Conclusion.
We have shown that modern science indicates the essential truth of
alchemistic doctrine, and our task is ended. Writing in 1904, Sir
William Ramsay said: "If these hypotheses [concerning the possibility
of causing the atoms of ordinary elements to absorb energy] are just,
then the transmutations of the elements no longer appears an idle
dream. The philosopher's stone will have been discovered, and it is
not beyond the bounds of possibility that it may lead to that other
goal of the philosophers of the dark ages -- the elixir vitæ. For the
action of living cells is also dependent on the nature and direction
of the energy which they contain; and who can say that it will be




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


-141-


impossible to control their action, when the means of imparting and
controlling energy shall have been investigated?" 31 Whatever may be
the final verdict concerning his own experiments, those of Sir Ernest
Rutherford, referred to in the Preface to the present edition,
demonstrate the fact of transmutation; and it is worth noticing how
many of the alchemists' obscure descriptions of their Magistery well
apply to that marvellous something which we call Energy, the true
"First Matter" of the Universe. And of the other problem, the Elixir
Vitæ, who knows?



1. They must not be confused with the greenish-yellow phosphorescence
which is also produced: the X-rays are invisible.

2. See Madame SKLODOWSKA CURIE'S Radio-active Substances (2nd ed.,
1904).

3. See Sir T. E. THORPE: "On the Atomic Weight of Radium" (Bakerian
Lecture for 1907. Delivered before the Royal Society, June 20, 1907),
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. lxxx. pp. 298 et
seq.; reprinted in The Chemical News, vol. xcvii. pp. 229 et seq. (May
15, 1908).

4. Madame P. CURIE and M. A. DEBIERNE: "Sur le radium métallique,"
Comptes Rendus heldomadaires des Séances l'Academie des Sciences, vol.
cli. (1910), pp. 523-525. (For an English translation of this paper
see The Chemical News, vol. cii. p. 175.)

5. This follows from Avogadro's Hypothesis, see § 76.

6. Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY and Dr. R. W. GRAY: "La densité de l'émanation
du radium," Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des
Sciences, vol. cvi. (1910), pp. 126 et seq.

7. This view regarding the -rays is not, however, universally
accepted, some scientists regarding them as consisting of a stream of
particles moving with very high velocities.

8. Sir WILLIAM CROOKES, F.R.S.: "Radio-activity of Uranium,"
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. lxvi. (1900), pp. 409
et seq.

9. E. RUTHERFORD, F.R.S., and H. T. BARNES, D.Sc.: "Heating Effect of
the Radium Emanation," Philosophical Magazine [6], vol. vii. (1904),
pp. 202 et seq.

10. Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY and FREDERICK SODDY: "Experiments in
Radioactivity and the Production of Helium from Radium," Proceedings
of the Royal Society of London, vol. lxxii. (1903), pp. 204 et seq.

11. E. RUTHERFORD, F.R.S., and T. ROYDS, M.Sc.: "The Nature of the
-particle from Radio-active Substances," Philosophical Magazine [6],
vol. xvii. (1909), pp. 281 et seq.

12. By Ramsay. See Proceedings of the Chemical Society, vol. xxv.
(1909), pp. 82 and 83.

13. By Professor Onnes. See Chemical News, vol. xcviii. p. 37 (July
24, 1908).

14. See Professor H. C. JONES: The Electrical Nature of Matter and
Radioactivity (1906), pp. 125 -- 126.

15. It has been definitely proved, for example, that the common
element potassium is radioactive, though very feebly so (it emits
-rays). It is also interesting to note that many common substances
emit corpuscles at high temperatures.

16. Says Peter Bonus, however, " . . . we know that the generation of
metals occupies thousands of years . . . in Nature's workshop . . ."
(see The New Pearl of Great Price, Mr. A. E. Waite's translation, p.
55), and certain others of the alchemists expressed a similar view.

17. Sir WILLIAM A. TILDEN: The Elements: Speculations as to their
Nature and Origin (1910), pp. 108, 109, 133 and 134. With regard to
Sir William Tilden's remarks, it is very interesting to note that
Swedenborg (who was born when Newton was between forty and fifty years
old) not only differed from that great philosopher on those very
points on which modern scientific philosophy is at variance with
Newton, but, as is now recognised by scientific men, anticipated many
modern discoveries and scientific theories. It would be a most
interesting task to set forth the agreement existing between
Swedenborg's theories and the latest products of scientific thought
concerning the nature of the physical universe. Such, however, would
lie without the confines of the present work.

18. Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY: "The Chemical Action of the Radium Emanation.
Pt. I., Action on Distilled Water," Journal of the Chemical Society,
vol. xci. (1907), pp. 931 et seq. ALEXANDER T. CAMERON and Sir WILLIAM
RAMSAY, ibid. "Pt. II., On Solutions containing Copper, and Lead, and
on Water," ibid. pp. 1593 et seq. "Pt. III., On Water and Certain
Gases," ibid. vol. xciii. (1908), pp. 966 et seq. "Pt. IV., On Water,"
ibid. pp. 992 et seq.

19. Journal of the Chemical Society, vol. xciii. (1908), p. 997.

20. E. RUTHERFORD, F.R.S., and T. ROYDS, M.Sc.: "The Action of Radium
Emanation on Water," Philosophical Magazine [6], vol. xvi. (1908), pp.
812 et seq.

21. See pp. 106, 107.

22. Journal of the Chemical Society, vol. xci. (1907), pp. 1605-1606.
More recent experiments, however, proved that the -particle does
consist of an electrically charged helium-atom, and this view was
latterly accepted by Sir William Ramsay, so that the above suggestions
must be modified in accordance therewith. (See § 94.)

23. Madame CURIE and Mademoiselle GLEDITSCH: "Action de 'émanation du
radium sur les solutions des sels de cuivre," Comptes Rendus
hebdomadaires de Séances de l'Acadimie des Sciences, vol. cxlvii.
(1908), pp. 345 et seq. (For an English translation of this paper, see
The Chemical News, vol. xcviii. pp. 157 and 158.)

24. EDGAR PHILIP PERMAN: "The Direct Action of Radium on Copper and
Gold," Proceedings of the Chemical Society, vol. xxiv. (1908), p. 214.

25. Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY: "Elements and Electrons," Journal of the
Chemical Society, vol. xcv. (1909), pp. 624 et seq.

26. For a brief account in English of these later experiments see The
Chemical News, vol. c. p. 209 (October 29, 1909).

27. Diamond is transformed into graphite when heated by a powerful
electric current between carbon poles, and both diamond and graphite
can be indirectly converted into charcoal. The artificial production
of the diamond, however, is a more difficult process; but the late
Professor Moissan succeeded in effecting it, so far as very small
diamonds are concerned, by dissolving charcoal in molten iron or
silver and allowing it to crystallise from the solution under high
pressure. Graphite was also obtained. Red phosphorus is produced from
yellow phosphorus by heating the latter in absence of air. The
temperature 240-250o C. is the most suitable; at higher temperatures
the reverse change sets in, red phosphorus being converted into yellow
phosphorus.

28. Professor HENRY M. HOWE, LL.D.: "Allotropy or Transmutation." (See
The Chemical News, vol. cii. pp. 153 and 154, September 23, 1910.)

29. For a defence of the view that chemical substances may be regarded
as energy-complexes, and that this view is equally as valid as the
older notion of a chemical substance as an inertia-complex, i.e., as
something made up entirely of different units or atoms each
characterised by the possession of a definite and constant weight at a
fixed point on the earth's surface, see an article by the present
writer, entitled "The Claims of Thermochemistry," Knowledge and
Scientific News, vol. vii. (New Series), pp. 227 et seq. (July, 1910).

30. In some cases the heat change accompanying the transformation of
an element into an "allotropic modication"{sic} can be measured
directly. More frequently, however, it is calculated as the difference
between the quantities of heat obtained when the two "forms" are
converted into one and the same compound.

31. Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY: "Radium and its Products," Harper's Magazine
(December 1904), vol. xlix. (European Edition), p. 57.

THE END.
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