Will it ever be possible for nanotechnology to create a
true form of
alchemy? If nanobots are built on the molecular level, couldn't they
then manipulate atoms to change one element into another (possibly by
either stripping or adding electrons)?
Not nano enough. To change one element into another you have to change the
number of protons in the nucleus. If you just take away an electron, you
get an ion of the same element. You might one day see nanobots weaving
polymers or assembling DNA strands, but alchemy seems remote.
By the way, a true form of alchemy already exists. Nuclear reactors
change elements into other elements simply by adding neutrons to their
nuclei. The initial result is usually unstable and decays to some
other element which usually is also unstable, and so on until a stable
nucleus remains. Not a very cost effective way of making gold (the
usual target of alchemists) but it is true alchemy.
Actually, elements can be converted into different elements by normal
radioactive decay and by induced processes in nuclear reactors and particle
accelerators. Nanobots wouldn't work: atomic nuclei are so much smaller
than molecules, and the energies involved in nuclear reactions are so
high, that a molecular tool couldn't possibly carry out a desired operation
on an atomic nucleus.
Richard Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
To do alchemy, as we know it today, you would have to manipulate the number
of proton and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom and the electrons in the
Nanotechnology can move molecules around but it cannot manipulate what is
inside of an atom. In other words, it cannot change the nature of an atom.
Dr. Ali Khounsary
Advanced Photon Source
What would the nanobots be made of if not large collections of atoms?
Besides, stripping electrons is not going to change an atom from one element
to another. The element is determined by the number of protons in the
nucleus. Nanobots will never achieve alchemy.
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Update: June 2012