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THE TRANSMUTATION OF SILVER., Issue 10459, 1 November 1897
THE TRANSMUTATION OF SILVER.
A YANKEE ALCHEMIST.
[From Our London Corresponpest.]
The alchemist of olden days used to make mixtures in an iron pot of various metals, and hoped by adding some fluid compounded of anything and everything to produce gold. The scientist of the present day still worries himself over the same problem, and there are few dabblers in chemistry who have not made an effort to transmute baser metals into gold. And yet the riddle remains unsolved, and common, every-day people have come to the conclusion that the task is an impossible one, and that chemists in all .ages have been battering their heads against a-brick wall. It is one of the secrets - that Nature, who has yielded to the inquirer many things more wonderful, has so far refused to give up. A doctor of science in the United States, however, claims to have at last disopveted a way of changing silver into gold. It is impossible to predict what an .-Upheaval such a discovery would mean. Should be have done so, the consequences on the world’s trade will be tremendous, but whatever calamity the discovery brings with it we will at least have one mercy to be thankful for. It will be impossible to boro us further with that dreary subject—bimetallism. However, there is as yet little to go on. According to the ‘New York Tribune,’ since April Dr Emmena has de- ■ posited at Uncle Sam’s Assay Office, in New York, seven ingots, each weighing from seven to seventeen ounces. These have been examined by experts of the highest standing. Official reports declare that the ingots consisted of a mixture of gold and silver, more than nine-tenths fine, and that from three-fifths to two-thirds of the precious metal in them was gold. Dr Emmens declares that these ingots were all produced by his special process, and that the principal, in fact, it would almost be correct to say the exclusive, material employed in making them was a lot of Mexican dollars, in which there were nine parts of silver to one of copper, but no gold. This alloy, curiously enough, is said to give better results thau perfectly pure silver. One important link in the chain of evidence is still lacking. No disinterested and competent witness has gone into the laboratory, sampled the materials, watched every step of the process, and certified to the identity of the ingots sent to the Assay Office with the products of Dr Emmens’a art. Scientifically, therefore, the story is not yet entitled to full acceptance. A GREAT PRESSURE METHOD.
Dr Emmena himself says the essential agent in the alleged transmutation is enormous mechanical pressure. There is a little fluxing and granulation. Chemical treatment with a modified nitric acid is also resorted to. But a prolonged squeeze, enduring from a week to ten days, in a machine which the inventor calls a “ force engine,” and in which a pressure of 250 tons to a square inch is said to be exerted, is the main feature of the operation. Eventually Dr Emmens expects to be able' to apply a pressure of 800 tons to the inch. Some samples of metal which he exhibits to illustrate the gradual change in the substance while under treatment show a faint flecking of the white surface with pale yellow spots and streaks after a certain time. These grow until finally the metal is of a uniformly yellowish tint. At a certain stage of proceedings, Dr Emmens says, the metal has been changed into something which he is disposed to regard as a new element, to which be gives the narr e “ argentaurum.” Subsequently, however, alarge proportion (roughly speaking, about 60 per cent.) of the mass is •* advanced ” (o the condition of pure gold, while the rest of the argentaurum reverts,” or goes back agaiu, to the character of silver. The proportion varies slightly in a series of experiments, so that Dr Emmens, like a housewife making bread, has a little better luck at one time than at another ; yet thus far he has never succeeded in converting all of his silver into gold. He has an explanation for the fact, but it is not necessary to go into that at present; Part of the silver which remains is,left in the ingot and sold as bullion, while part of. it is separated at the refining stage of the process, and is added to the raw material used in the later undertakings. The copper which was alloyed with the silver at the Mexican mint remains unchanged in the mass all the time, and appears in the official assay of Dr fimmeus’a ingots here. the hew philosopher’s stose.
The philosopher’s atone, or “ great elixir,” which was sought so eagerly and at such appalling expense by learned men in the Middle Ages, was conceived to be a distinct substance by itself, a solid which could be dissolved in water, and which had the double property of prolonging life and of converting any of the baser metals (with which it might be mixed mechanically) into gold. Dr Emmens relies upon no such agent. But there is one point on which there is a striking agreement between the views of the old alchemists and a few of our modern scientists. Within the last fifteen or twenty years there has been a disposition among chemists to believe that, after all, the sixty-eight or seventy separate elements arc composed of the same identical substance, their constituent atoms differing only in the rate at which they vibrate to and fro, or in some other physical peculiarity. this should be found to be true, and if one could only discpver the trick of changing the Combination, then he could transmute any one substance into any other. There are several reasons why Dr Emiqens has used silver in preference to the baser metals in bis experiments. The |tiibwn elements ffaye
1 been arranged on account of similarity of ( properties into eight principal groups, each lof which has two sub-divisions. And MenJclteef discovered that when this classification had been effected . still another relationship existed between the members of a, subdivision. There is a strange ratio between the figures which stand for their respective atomic weights. . Now, sodium, copper, silver, and gold belong to one of these minor classes, although there is a gap in the aeries. It comes between silver and gold. Dr Emmena thinks it possible that his “ argeutaurum ” may fill that gap, although, he has not yet ascertained its atomic weight. However that may be, silver is very closely allied (in a sense that only a chemist can fully appreciate) to gold. Copper is also similarly, related, and is cheaper than silver. While Dr Emmena has not attempted its conversion into gold, and, does not deem it impracticable, yet he believes that such a. transmutation would be more difficult than his present process. As for the metals outside of the sodium-to-gold group, he regards their conversion a still more complicated job. THE SMALL OUTPUT. At present Dr Emmens treats only five or six ounces of metal at a time. He appears to entertain no. hope that he can greatly increase the amount handled by one machine, or can make the operation a quicker one. On the other hand, ho says, it may be judicious to conduct it more slowly. If, however, twenty or thirty “ force engines ” are put to work, a very decent output ought to be expected. As to the cost of the machines, and the expense of the process, it it is too soon to give figures. When these are fully known, and the machine is perfected, a definite ratio between the values of silver and gold may be fixed, Whether the former would rise or the latter would fall is a question for political economists to determine. In defence of that secrecy which makes it impossible for the public to obtain a complete demonstration of the correctness of Dr Emmens’s claims at present, that gentleman says that he has not yet taken out all the patents he desires. He has, nevertheless, excited the interest of some of the most distinguished foreign chemists. What may be their verdict time only can tell. If they can discover a fallacy or fraud in this remarkable scheme, of course that will put an end to the business. If, ou the other hand, adds the ‘ Tribune,’ this end-of-the-aineteentL-century alchemist can satisfy logical people in regard to the genuineness of his transmutation process, a tremendous revolution will ensue.
THE TRANSMUTATION OF SILVER., Issue 10459, 1 November 1897
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