What is alchemy and is it even real?

Alchemy, the process of turning a base metal into gold, has been a dream of gold enthusiasts for millennia. It’s not hard to see why. If you discovered a recipe for turning lead into gold, you would become a millionaire overnight. Your basement would be filled with stacks and stacks of gold, and you would never need to worry about inflation again.

You could indulge in all sorts of eccentric hobbies, and if anyone questioned you, you could just throw a few gold bars their way.

Unfortunately, it turns out that alchemy, at least in its purest form, can’t be done. You can’t turn any metal into gold, no matter how much sorcery or chemicals or mystical charms you use. For now, lead will remain lead and gold will remain gold.

In this post, we’re going to unpack alchemy. We’re going to explain where the idea came from and some of the ways people tried to make it happen.

We’re also going to unveil some real, surprising ways that gold can be obtained.

By the end, you’ll see gold everywhere!

The History (And Failure) Of Alchemy

Alchemy originated in a spiritual worldview that said everything holds a universal spirit within it. Metals were not only alive but also grew inside the earth like living organisms. They had the universal spirit within them, just like every other material on earth.

A base metal, like lead, was simply a physically and spiritually immature form of a higher metal, like gold. Zinc, lead, and gold were not all individual metals, but the same metal in various forms of development.

The goal was to make the base metal “mature” into the higher metal gold. Think of it like nurturing a young child.

As time went on, the process of alchemy evolved. In the beginning, it relied heavily on magic. Some individuals thought that something called the “Philosopher’s Stone” existed, which could heal people, lengthen life, and transform base metals into gold. Others created elaborate mystical rituals designed to effect the transformation.

During the Enlightenment, a more rational, scientific approach was taken, with many scientists experimenting with chemical processes. Surprisingly though, even some of the most rational scientists such as Isaac Newton clung to the hope of discovering a mystical alchemy process.

As Benjamin Radford notes:

In March 2016, the Chemical Heritage Foundation bought a 17th-century alchemy manuscript written by Newton. Buried in a private collection for decades, the manuscript detailed how to make “philosophic” mercury, thought to be a step toward making the philosopher’s stone — a magical substance thought to have the ability to turn any metal into gold and give eternal life.

Unfortunately, none of these efforts produced true alchemy. It turns out that base metals can’t be magically or chemically transformed into gold.

Today, it is possible to “create” gold using particle accelerators, but the amounts created are minuscule and not worth the Herculean efforts involved.

For more info about the history of alchemy, here’s a short video:

From Alchemy to Chemistry

Even though alchemy itself could be considered a failure, it did contribute in significant ways to the field of chemistry. Robert Boyle, who articulated Boyle’s Law, claimed that he had been able to change gold into mercury using something he called “quicksilver.” Not surprisingly, he didn’t reveal exactly how he did this, which creates some significant doubts around his claims.

Nevertheless, Boyle was a constant experimenter and was on the forefront of developing the scientific method.

As Michelle Feder notes:

Boyle was a prolific experimenter who kept meticulous accounts about both his failures and successes. He was a pioneer of chemical analysis and the scientific method, endlessly repeating his experiments with slight variations to obtain better results and, unheard of among earlier alchemists, always publishing the methods and details of his work in clear terms that could be widely understood.

While it’s true that alchemy itself hasn’t survived scrutiny by modern science, it did play some role in the creation of modern scientific methods.

The Extraction of Gold

Even though gold can’t be created out of other substances, it can be extracted from a variety of substances. This, of course, isn’t alchemy. Rather, it’s removing existing gold from a substance. Gold occurs naturally in some substances and can be removed through a variety of processes. It is also found in some consumer products and can be stripped for profit.

What can gold be extracted from? Here’s a partial list:


Researchers in Russia recently created a way to extract trace amounts of gold from coal. Although the return rate isn’t great ($23 worth of gold per ton), it’s a start.

As Sergey Guneev wrote:

To create the gold, smoke created in burning coal goes through a hundred-fold purifying system. The residue is then flushed through a filter with water, allowing a gold concentrate to be extracted that is later used to make the precious metal.


 Tiny amounts of gold can be extracted from seawater. However, the amount per liter is so tiny that it requires a massive amount of effort to accumulate even a small amount.

As the National Ocean Service writes:

Ocean waters do hold gold – nearly 20 million tons of it. However, if you were hoping to make your fortune mining the sea, consider this: Gold in the ocean is so dilute that its concentration is on the order of parts per trillion. Each liter of seawater contains, on average, about 13 billionths of a gram of gold.


Surprisingly, small amounts of gold can be extracted from certain types of crops. Certain plants, like mustard and tobacco, have the ability to suck up gold particles from treated soil. The plants can then be burned, and tiny amounts of gold can be extracted from the ash using a series of chemicals.

While this process will certainly never replace traditional gold mining, it can be used to remediate soil that has been polluted by gold mines.


Because gold is such an outstanding conductor, it is used to coat connections and circuits in various electronic devices. The fact that gold doesn’t rust makes it an ideal connector for low voltage circuits, which get disrupted by even the smallest blemishes.

Usually, you can find gold plating in switches, relays, circuit joints, connection wires, and contacts.

Dental Work


Gold is malleable, allowing it to be molded to fit into small spaces between teeth. This is why crowns, bridges, and other orthodontics are a combination of gold and porcelain. Because gold doesn’t rust or corrode, it’s the perfect material for the wet environment of your mouth.

Interestingly, the price of dental work is often connected to the market price of gold. The more it goes up, the costlier it becomes to have dental work done.

 Old Jewelry

Not surprisingly, jewelry is a prime source of gold. Typically, jewelry is either 24 karats, 18 karats, 12 karats, or 10 karats. The lower the number, the less pure gold, with 24 karats being 100% gold.


Until science progresses, we won’t be able to create gold out of other substances. Most of us will have to settle for extracting gold from old jewelry, discarded dental work, and broken electronics.

But we can still dream of discovering miraculous ways to create gold. Of gold bars piled high in our houses and of cars made from pure gold.

The explorer Cortes said: “We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure.”

Cortes would be disappointed that we haven’t solved the problem of alchemy yet.

 This article originally appeared here at https://weldaloy.com/what-is-alchemy-and-is-it-even-real/ and has been republished with permission from  https://weldaloy.com