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The teacher's online companion to Science World, providing your middle school and high school students with science news and rich informational texts that connect STEM to the Common Core

The laboratory of Ernest Rutherford, the first scientist to artificially transform one chemical element into another. 
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Transmutation of Elements
From Grolier's New Book of Knowledge
 
Ernest Rutherford
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Grolier
The transmutation of a chemical element is the conversion of one element into another. Before chemical knowledge established that chemical conversion of one element into another is impossible, transmutation of base metals into gold was a goal long and hopelessly sought by alchemists. Nonchemical conversion of certain elements into others is now known to occur spontaneously through radioactive decay and can also be accomplished in the laboratory.

The first artificial transmutation of a nonradioactive element was achieved in 1919 by Ernest Rutherford. He found that on collision with an alpha particle (from a natural emitter), an atom of nitrogen was converted to an ion of oxygen and a hydrogen nucleus. In 1932, John D. Cockcroft and Ernest Walton achieved the first entirely artificial transmutation of an element by bombarding lithium with electrically accelerated protons. Attempts were made in the 1930s to produce a transuranium element by the bombardment of uranium with free neutrons. The unexpected result was the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938. Eventually, in 1940, E. M. McMillan and P. H. Abelson first positively produced and identified a transuranium element, which they named neptunium.

Transmutation is now a common process because of the availability of powerful particle accelerators and nuclear reactors, and virtually every element has been prepared artificially. More than 1,500 radioisotopes have been synthesized, many of which have valuable medical and industrial uses. The alchemists' dream is possible today: base metals can be transmuted to gold. The cost of the required energy, however, exceeds the value of the product.

Stephen Fleishman