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Is it possible to take atoms out of an element to create another element?


Silver Lady
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I was watching a show on tv explaining that mercury could be turned into gold with a particle accelerator. Since mercury and gold are incredibly close on the periodic table you'd only need to remove one atom to go from mercury to gold. But what happens when you remove more atoms? Would removing two atoms from mercury make platinum? And does that go for all the groups on the periodic table? 

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Your terminology is off. You can’t “remove an atom” as you describe. An atom consists of neutrons and protons. The number of protons tells you what element the atom is.

You can add or remove protons and you will end up with a new element.

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20 minutes ago, Silver Lady said:

I was watching a show on tv explaining that mercury could be turned into gold with a particle accelerator. Since mercury and gold are incredibly close on the periodic table you'd only need to remove one atom to go from mercury to gold. But what happens when you remove more atoms? Would removing two atoms from mercury make platinum? And does that go for all the groups on the periodic table? 

Not quite, it is a proton (and an electron) that you would need to remove from an atom of mercury, in order to convert it to an atom of gold. It is the number of protons in the nucleus (and the corresponding number of electrons to keep it electrically neutral) that determines what element an atom is. But indeed, if you were to remove 2 protons and 2 electrons from a mercury atom, you would have an atom of platinum.  

N.B. If you were instead to remove neutrons from the nucleus, you would just have a different isotope of the same element as before. It is the electrons that determine the chemical properties that define an element, and the number of electrons goes with the number of protons. 

 

 

Edited by exchemist
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29 minutes ago, Silver Lady said:

I was watching a show on tv explaining that mercury could be turned into gold with a particle accelerator. Since mercury and gold are incredibly close on the periodic table you'd only need to remove one atom to go from mercury to gold. But what happens when you remove more atoms? Would removing two atoms from mercury make platinum? And does that go for all the groups on the periodic table? 

As swansont and exchemist have said, so our old mate Isacc Newton's idea of transmuting lead to gold and similar, was basically correct in his side practise of alchemy, although obviously not the same methodology.

Also worth mentioning, this is also basically what happens in a fission bomb and is called nuclear  transmutation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_fission

220px-Nuclear_fission.svg.png

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13 hours ago, beecee said:

Also worth mentioning, this is also basically what happens in a fission bomb

Only in a rough sense; fission and particle ejection are classified as different reactions. Particle ejection can be endothermic, so you need an energetic particle to cause the proton to be removed. Almost certainly required if you eject more than one. Fissionable materials are typically very heavy nuclei, and fissile materials are a small subset. Particle ejection candidates are found over almost the whole range of the periodic table.

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