Did Physicists Accidentally Discover a Way to Make Gold?

Unlike diamonds, there is no synthetic process for creating new gold. The one and only way to get more gold is to dig it out of the ground.

That doesn't mean people haven't tried to create gold out of thin air. Oh, have they tried! For millennia, one of the primary goals of alchemy has been to find a method—typically involving the fabled Philosopher's Stone—to transform base metals into gold.

Despite the repeated failures of alchemy to produce such results, the science of particle physics may have stumbled upon a real-life version of the alchemist's dream.

Laboratory Gold?

"Stand back, I'm doing SCIENCE"

The cutting-edge of physics research takes place at CERN, located in Switzerland. This is where many of the world's top scientists have been conducting experiments that explore the quantum level of reality.

Front-and-center in this effort is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is a structure made up of an enormous circular pipe that is surrounded by high-powered magnets. Physicists use it to accelerate tiny particles to as fast as they possibly can go, just shy of the speed of light, and then—as the name implies—subject these particles to collisions with other particles. It has been in operation since 2008.

About five years ago, the staff at CERN realized there was a thin film of material that was forming on the interior of the LHC. They soon realized that it was actually made up of precious metals.

In fact, this material was a combination of about 90% gold, 10% platinum, and a small balance of rare earth metals.

The thin layer of metals was just four microns thick. However, if it turned out that this metallic coating lined a large portion of the LHC's 27 kilometers of piping, it was estimated that some four metric tons of gold had accidentally been created!

But Is It Actionable?

The story of the discovery at CERN recently resurfaced at the World Gold Council. There is apparently still no word on how or why operating the LHC would result in precious metals accruing on the device. Obviously, for all of their knowledge and scientific acumen, this outcome wasn't something the physicists at CERN anticipated.

There have been plenty of theories about the unintended consequences of CERN's experiments. They usually focus on unwittingly ripping a hole in the fabric of space-time, or causing some esoteric interdimensional apocalypse. Of course, even the conspiracy theorists failed to consider the possibility that gold might be a byproduct.

So has the field of physics really discovered the secret to make synthetic gold? Until we understand why, exactly, the experiments with the LHC resulted in the formation of gold and platinum, the answer is sadly no.

The next step once this mystery has been solved will be to find a way to replicate the process and somehow profitably extract the resulting precious metals. Also, in all likelihood, this could all prove prohibitively expensive, making the endeavor a net loss anyway.

The opinions and forecasts herein are provided solely for informational purposes, and should not be used or construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any product.

Posted In: blog
Login to post comment Login
Everett Millman

Everett Millman

Managing Editor | Analyst, Commodities and Finance

Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.

In addition to blogging, Everett's work has been featured in Reuters, CNN Business, Bloomberg Radio, TD Ameritrade Network, CoinWeek, and has been referenced by the Washington Post.