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Scientists find economic process for creating gold from base metals

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Ben Dover
San Francisco Comical
Tuesday, July 17, 2007;_ylt=AnlKIwIEm...

LIVERMORE, California -- Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have discovered a process for inexpensively converting base metals into gold, the lab announced Tuesday night at a hastily called news conference.

Since medieval times the dream of alchemists has been to make gold, the exemplar of the precious metals, out of lead, the basest of the base metals. Heretofore this has been possible only through the use of particle accelerators and other devices of nuclear mechanics to remove three protons from each lead atom, a process requiring so much energy that it was far more costly than any gold that could be produced.

But Lab Director Stew Pidasso said Tuesday night the lab's scientists have produced economic quantities of the precious metal in a different way.

"The alchemists and the early nuclear scientists failed to realize that there's more than one way to skin a proton," Pidasso said. "Instead of trying to knock protons out of lead, protons can be borrowed from metals with lower atomic numbers and added to make gold."

Pidasso said the lab, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, first achieved the transformation by borrowing protons from copper and nickel and adding them to bars of iron. But when copper and nickel supplies ran out, the lab began using protons from calcium, which is abundant in seashells along the nearby California coastline.

According to Pidasso, using proton borrowing and high-quality varnishes, the lab will be able to manufacture about 1,500 metric tonnes of gold per year, which, he predicted, might indefinitely fill what is estimated to be the gap between annual world gold demand and mine and scrap supply.

Pidasso said the laboratory's gold research long has been funded by grants from JPMorganChase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. but that recently "enormous" help had been provided by Bear Stearns Cos.

The lab's announcement was expected to plunge the precious metals markets into chaos. A spokesman for the World Gold Council in London, reached late in the evening on his cell phone at a local club, would say only, "Young women in slinky outfits will look good in gold no matter how much of the stuff is available or where it comes from. Those details hardly matter to us."

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