Science: Inverted Alchemy

For a thousand years alchemists dreamed of transmuting mercury into gold. They never succeeded. Modern atomic physicists might do the trick without a philosopher's stone, but do not think the result would be worth the effort. Last week, however, scientists at the University of California announced that they had transmuted gold into mercury—and turned a scientific profit. They did it by bombarding gold (atomic weight 197) with neutrons from the Berkeley cyclotron. Its atoms each absorbed one neutron, eventually turning into mercury 198.

This stunt was no mere atomic doodle. It promised the ideal measuring stick for which scientists have been crying....

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