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The original dream of the alchemists was to turn base metals into gold, however it's quite obvious that after that becomes cheap and easy it becomes basically useless since much of gold's value comes from its rarity.

But suppose the alchemists had achieved the ability to convert between different metals (ignoring that this is basically impossible IRL) what applications would this be used for in the real (modern) world? The obvious ones that jump out at me are turning a ton of lead into plutonium or producing things like the chromium or the rare earths cheaply but I'm sure there are plenty I haven't thought off. What sort of applications would there be for alchemy like this? Or for the dramatically increased availability of currently expensive materials like REE, silver etc...

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  • $\begingroup$ So, the ability is limited only to metals or could I convert say iron into helium? $\endgroup$ – Sasha Apr 7 '18 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ The price differential between iron and just about any other metal is so great that transforming iron in any metal would be extremely advantageous. (Ordinary steel costs some 300 USD/tonne; alumimium is 2000 USD/tonne, lead is 2000 USD/tonne, zinc is 3000 USD/tonne, copper is 6000 USD/tonne, tin is 20,000 USD/tonne.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 7 '18 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ If you could apply these alchemical transformations to a microscopic system, you could probably build completely new sorts of electronics with it. Semiconductors come to mind. $\endgroup$ – Bdrs Apr 7 '18 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Um...that thing you say is "basically impossible IRL" is done every day in a molybdenum cow....(transmutation works, you just need nuclear-level tech to do it, ask that Rutherford guy sometime ;) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Apr 7 '18 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ Does this ability obey energy conservation laws, meaning you can't use it to create limitless energy? $\endgroup$ – Kat Apr 7 '18 at 20:04
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Well, first of all, if you're going to turn a ton of lead into plutonium, I hope you do it in very small batches!

Besides the idea you've already come up with -- making rare elements -- there's also the possibility of unmaking elements: Use alchemy to make reactor fuel out of common materials, and then use it again to make common materials out of the radioactive waste. You'd have a real closed cycle.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, simply having the ability to break down heavy metals would be a blessing. $\endgroup$ – Sasha Apr 7 '18 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ Why would you make plutonium, just transmute it into an easier burnable metal. Or even just use a oxidation reaction to generate heat and use transmutation instead of reduction to get it back to its previous state. Basically a never depleting battery. $\endgroup$ – D.J. Klomp Apr 7 '18 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ I was assuming the alchemy isn't magical, costing no energy. The closer it comes to being magic where you just wave a wand and presto!, the more you can do with it. (But the question then becomes less difficult and less fun.) $\endgroup$ – Mark Olson Apr 7 '18 at 15:24
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Keeping it limited to metals you have a lot of options.

You can create unlimited energy by transmuting metals from an oxidized state to a non-oxidized state. This is assuming that oxidized metals still count as metal. In principle you create an unlimited battery by breaking one part of the redox cycle.

Another useful application of transmutation is that you could pick the best state for your metal during production and once done transmute it. So you could construct buildings with aluminum, nice light weight and easily malleable. Once your building or floor is done transmute all the aluminum to steel making it strong. Note that there is carbon in steel so I am not sure if this is allowed.

Also during processing you could do very interesting things. Chips and printed circut boards (PCBs) are made of very thin layers of metal, copper and silicon. Using gold instead of copper is very nice for PCBs, so here your transmutation to gold comes in if you want. Now it's mainly used for high end application (smart phones, etc.) due to the price. But even more interesting is creating the thin layers. It would be possible to use mercury to create very thin layers or even tracks and then transmute them to gold or copper.

Basically all your metals can be used as a liquid. You could do very cheap injection molding with metals, like now is done with most plastics.

Also depending on what you would classify as a metal you can create everything from sand. Silicon is a metalloid and sand is mostly silicon oxide, so no more mining of anything, just use sand for everything. You could build a sandcastle and make a solid steel house of it.

As a minor side note you would also have saved the universe from an energy death.

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    $\begingroup$ That is a brilliant answer (despite your spelling of silicon.) The injection moulding is a brilliant application I'd never have thought of. Perhaps if you couldn't transmute into streel tungsten would be suitable? $\endgroup$ – Ummdustry Apr 7 '18 at 16:22

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