“Every man thinks his copper is gold” – German Proverb
Can we really create gold in sophisticated labs? In order to be able to answer the matter of synthetic gold future and how it may affect the world’s economy, in particular the precious metal market, it is better to know first the basic aspects of creating the yellow metal and how are modern science progressed in this field.
“Matter cannot be created nor destroyed” – The Law of Conservation of Mass
Starting from well-known facts, gold is heavy metal with 79 protons, where these protons carry the characteristics of each element. Therefore, in order to transmute any element into gold, we need to change its number of protons to 79.
The reason we might think of making gold is purely economic, so we need to think of less-valuable metals to transform it into the precious metal. Old alchemists thought of lead, which is a very good start economically, but they did it the wrong way. They thought they convert lead into gold chemically, and that was their mistake. Modern scientists proved that chemistry wasn’t the way, as chemistry is ideal for transforming compounds into another compounds or individual elements. To change the number of protons, nuclear physics gave us the method, either by bombarding the atom to make it loose or gain protons.
Back to our lead example, which had 82 protons, couldn’t be changed by chemical methods to gold, so how about physical methods? Bombarding an atom with minute objects such as protons and neutrons requires tons of energy, and the number 82 is 3 protons far from gold. So, it wasn’t the answer in terms of energy-wise consumption.
How about mercury? It’s cheaper and it has 80 protons or Platinum which has 78 protons? Platinum is a goal for itself as it even rarest and more expensive than gold for scientists to work on it. Mercury, on the other hand, has some potential because it is more abundant and cheaper than gold. But the installations and technical difficulties of nuclear reactors made it less feasible. Plus the safety issue, after Chernobyl the world had to think twice before building a nuclear reactor. If it meltdown, it makes a paradise full of life into a wasteland for many decades.
The theory and records say it is possible. Harvard University had an experiment in 1941, where they actually transformed mercury into gold. But practically, it’s a much more headache than the benefits gained if not economically, ethically. The effect of synthetic gold on the world economy, it is a controversial. The main drive of world economics is none but humankind itself. How man will see gold in the future is a something we can’t know for sure as it depends on culture mainly, which in turn will be influenced by our long history and it needs another long period of time to change. Nevertheless, in the current chaotic state of the world economy, we might see it as a common practice soon enough.