Alchemy: Turning Lead to Gold


David M Lawrenz

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Alchemy Lab Image

III. Origin of Alchemy

IV. Ancient Alchemy

V. Modern Alchemy

VI. Gold & Galena

VII. References and Links

I. Introduction

Hello, my name is David M Lawrenz and I am a senior at Emporia State University. This web page is for GO 336 Mineralogy. I became fascinated with the fad of transmuting lead into gold and decided to create an informational page on minerals and alchemy. Some people have tried to transform minerals into the ones of their choosing. I believe that it illustrates mankind's zealous approach of controlling its environment instead of cooperating with it. And as other ill-advised ventures, it too resulted in failure.

II. Alchemy Lab

Image taken from:,
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III. Origin of Alchemy

Alchemy has been considered to be a sacred chemistry to be practiced by individuals chosen to discern the spiritual and temporal nature of reality. It was more of an art than a science. This is used to explain the structure, laws and functions of the universe. Alchemy is popularly known for its transmutations, which is the act of changing, transforming, or converting one substance into another. Alchemy's supreme quest was to transmutate lead into gold.

IV. Ancient Alchemy

Nicholas Flamel, a Parisian scrivener, purchased a mysterious text around 1350 that he translated; the encrypted text was finally deciphered on April 25, 1382 when he yielded half a pound of gold by transmuting mercury (The Resurgence of Alchemy). Thus is the first recorded account of successful transmutation. I would ask you to imagine the power and prestige one could obtain if a profitable manner of spinning lead into gold were harnessed. This was a reality for most people of the past. It was believed to be possible that a mysterious transformation of elements was possible and actively practiced. This was such a popular fad that mobs of people gathered to obtain the secret from a suspected alchemist who could have been beaten to death for not complying. Though most alchemists were unsuccessful at their intentional objectives, their exploits are invaluable in the evolution of chemistry. Serendipity was alchemy’s chief methodology and alchemists discovered scientific explanations through the journey to the fabled fruits of transmutation. As the transmutation of elements became debunked the focus of alchemy lay in its paralleled attempts to connect man with an intricately connected universe. Unknown to most is that alchemy is not only a chemical science but also a science involving astrology, metallurgy, and spirituality. Alchemy is not only dealing with metals and inorganics, it may also include organic materials such as plants and herbs. All alchemists seek a universal goal of the Philosophers Stone, which is believed to be a magical substance to cure disease and make all transmutations easier.

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V. Modern Alchemy

Today’s quest to change elements from one to another has taken more of a physics approach. Each element is defined by its atomic number. Now the secret to create a change in elements is to alter the number of protons in the elements’ atomic nucleus. Since gold has an atomic number of 79 and lead’s atomic number is 82 then 3 protons must be dropped off in order for the transmutation to be obtained. This approach to transmutation has already been accomplished.

There are two reported instances of gold forming in the stead of lead. First is from Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, who succeeded in converting lead into gold in 1980. Second is a report that surfaced later that in 1972, Soviet physicists accidentally discovered a reaction for turning lead into gold when they found the lead shielding in an experimental reactor had turned to gold!

The common manner of attempting this metamorphosis is with a device called a particle accelerator. Particle accelerators take a charged particle and accelerate it through series of tubes (linear accelerator) or circular pathways (circular accelerator). Obtaining gold from lead may always prove unfeasible however, it is more conceivable to retrieve gold from lead ores such as galena and anglesite.

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VI. Gold & Galena


Gold, with the chemical symbol Au, is quite possibly the most popular and well known native element mineral. Throughout civilizations and time, gold has been valuable and a measure of wealth and power. In spite of its popularity, most of gold’s specific properties are unfamiliar to the public at large. Gold’s hardness is 2.5 to 3 on Mohs Hardness Scale and it has an extremely high specific gravity (15.6-19.3). The color and streak are golden yellow. Gold may display a hackly fracture and it has no cleavage. Gold is easily worked because of its malleable and ductile tenacity. It is found in isometric, i.e. cubic, crystals but often misrepresented in irregular grains, leaves and wires.

Gold is a mineral whose greatest significance seems to be viewed as bars sitting on a palette in a locked safe for economic value. However gold is easy to manipulate and does not tarnish. These properties make gold a wonderful candidate for use in the space program from the gold sun visors on the space suit helmets to the gold wiring in the satellites so that they do not corrode or degrade.

Gold can be mistaken for a less valuable mineral called fool's gold or pyrite or for another sulfide mineral, chalcopyrite. Both sulfide imitators are brittle and lighter in weight than gold. Gold occurs in veins, igneous rocks, and hydrothermal deposits and it is found in association with silver, copper, and iron. Current gold prices can be found at


Galena is a lead sulfide mineral, with chemical formula of PbS. Like pyrite and gold, galena has a metallic luster. Galena's hardness is 2.5 on Mohs Hardness Scale and the specific gravity is in the range of 7.4 to 7.6. Galena has a dark grey color and streak, with perfect cubic cleavage or three-directional at ninety degrees. The mineral may display a rare subconchoidal fracture and is considered to have a brittle tenacity. Galena is from the isometric crystal system which occurs commonly in cubes or in combinations of cubes and octohedrons. Dodecahedraons are also a possible form but they occur rarely. It is found in pegmatites, hydrothermal vents, and replacements in chalks. Galena is derived from Latin, galena, given to lead ore or the dross from melted lead. It is thought of as the most important lead ore known.

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VII. References & Links



Alchemy Institute

Alchemy Today

The Resurgence of Alchemy

Webpage colors

Chesterman, C. W. 1979. National audubon society field guide to north american rocks and minerals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Klein, C. & C. S. Hurlbut Jr. 1993. Manual of mineralogy. (after J.D. Danan revised 21st Ed.). NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Aber, S. W. (2000-1). WWW URL:, Lead Mining in Missouri. Retrieved 12.02.01.

Aber, S. W. (2000-1). WWW URL:, Lead Milling in Missouri. Retrieved 12.02.01.

Date of Creation: 11.13.01, Latest Update: 11.21.01

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