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After finding some old tomes in Nostradamus' tomb (the real one, not that decorative fake) about alchemy, I finally made the first modern philosopher's stone. Now I can transmute plumbum (AKA lead) into anything. Pure substances only, unfortunately.

My first batch was good old lead to gold. Smelted it with a bit of copper to make it 24K, made bars out of it and sold for some profit. So far so good.

What is the best element to be making, assuming that:

  • I can only make around 100 grams or a quarter of a pound of transmutations a day.
  • I can make any isotope, but only pure elements. No alloys.
  • I don't want anything too radioactive. Anything that can give me cancer over a day of exposure is too radioactive.
  • Toxicity is not an issue, only radiation. But see below:
  • I don't want to be flagged by the government, so nothing illegal / restricted.
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    $\begingroup$ Can't you make more philosopher's stones? If I were you I would patent that invention and exploit it on an industrial scale. No capital? No problem. Investors all over the world will beg to fund you. Getting a few billion of investment capital will be a piece of cake considering the infinite possibilities your technology offers. Oh, and by the way, give me a heads up when you start doing this. I want to invest in lead mining. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ Fun fact: our civilization starves lead. We recycle almost all of it. So in the long run your civilization may have a problem. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ This question can not be answered because you didn't state a goal. Is your goal to be as rich as possible or are you a scientist that like to study rare elements? $\endgroup$
    – Pieter B
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 7:07
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, use any metal (including lead), and market yourself as a refining service - charge the market rate of the original mass of the metal plus a refining fee. You would be crazy to sell your metals on the metals market - instead you would be able to sell them to laboratories as '18+N' / <1ppm impurities, and you could hide your transmutation in plain sight.. (it would be a proprietary refining method) 100% pure anything is worth a LOT more than normal market purity. $\endgroup$
    – Konchog
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Konchog This is the correct answer and you should post it as an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 7:51

15 Answers 15

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Use any metal (including lead), and market yourself as a refining service - charge the market rate of the original mass of the metal plus a refining fee. You would be crazy to sell your metals on the metals market - instead you would be able to sell them to laboratories as '18+N' / <1ppm impurities, and you could hide your transmutation in plain sight.. (it would be a proprietary refining method) 100% pure anything is worth a LOT more than normal market purity.

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Gold isn't even in the top 5 here. A quick Google search tells me that the following pure elements are going to be worth it:

  • Tritium \$30,000 per gram
  • Diamond (pure carbon) \$55,000 per gram (and non-radioactive)
  • Californium \$25,000,000 per gram
  • Antimatter \$62,500,000,000,000 (that's \$62.5 trillion) per gram (although you may have trouble with storage and marketing)

Happy crafting!

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    $\begingroup$ While there is a market for tritium and diamonds, I am not sure about californium. The quoted sum seems to be the cost to manufacture californium, should you ever want to, not something that someone would be willing to pay for it? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ @ThomasPadron-McCarthy Honestly, not a clue. The \$62 trillion dollar figure on Antimatter is also a "cost to make" value. Also, for reference, Plutonium is \$4,000 per gram and Platinum is \$60 per gram, followed by Rhodium at \$58 and Gold, \$56. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ If you have tritium to sell the government is going to send a couple of big boys in black suits to have a word with you - while it's used scientifically, one of its main uses is as a trigger for nukes. Californium is worthless. It's a rarity studied at laboratories, but there's no use for it. Diamond is carbon with a specifical crystalline structure. If the philoshopher's stone can't control that you can end with a lot of graphite instead. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, but if you sell any of these, your family will never see you again. Chances are quite large that some goverment will, ehm, borrow you untill you teach them how. $\endgroup$
    – Martijn
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ Radiation, requires specific chemical structure, Radiation, RADIATION $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 14:04
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If you want to be quiet about it, gold is pretty good - no-one will be massively surprised if you turn up wanting to sell gold, whereas ruthenium would be another matter... However, if you're planning on making anything like gold, silver, platinum, etc., making a lot and putting it on the market will risk devalueing it - so maybe don't go too mad churning out ingots of the stuff.

Synthesising rare elements could probably get the attention (and funding) of various laboratories worldwide. However, it would definitely begin to draw notice if loads more osmium appears in the world, for example, which might not be as helpful if you want to keep it secret.

If you're willing to stretch past just elements, and be able to control the crystalline/molecular structures of your creations, then that could go well. Everything from proteins for crystallography (that no-one can grow in nanograms, i.e. cryptocromes, let alone 100g!), through to really really pure water - scientists would be really happy! Also, if you could control it to a high degree of specificity, perhaps manipulating just a single amino acid, then guaranteeing purity would be an amazing base for research. (I'm talking millions/billions of dollars of research).

If you can create a molecule as you wish, purity is an incredible thing scientifically - but even knowing what impurities you've included would be a godsend. You'd need to be public about it, because no-one would really take you seriously if you just turned up at a lab with a sample, but you'd earn one hell of a lot of money once you got credentials and confirmation. You might not be able to make drugs for the whole world, but you could progress research by huge leaps. (Medicine, engineering, photovoltaic cells... So many diverse disciplines could benefit from it!)

Also, if you're the only one who can operate this philosopher's stone, you'd probably want protection from a government/global institution - you'd effectively become a single-person superpower with such an ability. While aligning with any institution would give them power too, you'd also get a decent benefit yourself (by not having a really easy target on your head).

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    $\begingroup$ +1 to "don't go too mad churning out ingots of the stuff." Of course, you can't get rich that way... $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 1:14
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    $\begingroup$ “However, if you're planning on making anything like gold, silver, platinum, etc., making a lot and putting it on the market will risk devalueing it - so maybe don't go too mad churning out ingots of the stuff.” How rich does OP want to get? According to this rough survey, global gold trading is in tens of billions of dollars per day, and the total world gold supply is worth trillions of dollars. So you could certainly sell a few million dollars’ worth of gold without any danger of devaluing it. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine I haven't looked at your linked page, but how much of that is in paper gold futures, and how much is in actual, physical, tangible gold? I'm guessing that most is "paper gold", and comparatively little is in physical deliveries. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling: Right, I wasn’t able to find that breakdown, and like you I’d guess most of it is on paper. So the large trading volume doesn’t provide so much “cover” — your actual physical gold would still stand out and might attract unwelcome attention — but I think it does show you’re not in danger of flooding the market and devaluing gold. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 17:54
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Gold and platinum group metals (platinum, rhodium, palladium etc.) would be your best choice.

Second best choice is making rare isotopes like deuterium, but this will get government's attention very quick.

If you are able to create elements with specific crystal form (like diamond), that will work nicely.

Anyway, you should think well about establishing a legal front for your operations.

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    $\begingroup$ For the last paragraph: like actual gold mine? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot - yes, that can be a good cover. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Or any pit or stream that might conceivably have gold. Like just about any stream within sight of a volcano. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Ironically enough, OP should make a deal with me for the legal front - my grandfather owned a large share % in a non-operational platinum mine (which the family believes was a complete con job from the get-go, oh well). Could make a sudden 'discovery' there. $\endgroup$
    – Jeutnarg
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 15:37
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Any isotope of any element? Oh boy, you have no idea...

Please, please make 100 grams of 298 Flerovium or any other isotope from the isle of stability

This is absolutely priceless. They can only be produced in single molecules and their existence is only proven by observation their decay, so there may be even stable isotopes, but their existence cannot be proven. If stable, Flerovium will not be radioactive and being in the same periodic group as lead it will be presumably not very reactive (meaning harmless if you don't touch or ingest it).

Please, please do it and give me (or any other scientist, but really I am the first here!) a sample. You see, I am kneeing before you. Do you want my money, my family, my soul? Do you have any specific wish? Please, pretty please, have mercy and give me something like that.

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    $\begingroup$ A "stable" isotope could have a half-life of seconds or minutes way up there, no? The radiation could be really nasty. (And yes, it might be a miraculous trans uranic stable isotope) $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Yakk No, the problem of creation is that the ratio of neutrons must increase to get stable isotopes, but having only normal elements, the resulting atoms are very unstable. It is very likely that 298Flevorium is completely stable like gold or other stable elements, it does not decay at all. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia states: "The half-lives of nuclei in the island of stability itself are unknown since none of the nuclides that would be "on the island" have been observed. Many physicists think they are relatively short, on the order of minutes or days.[2] Some theoretical calculations indicate that their half-lives may be long, on the order of 109 years." -- in short, "very likely" is more than a bit strong. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Yakk Determining half-lifes from first principles means QCD. But the interaction between gluons and quarks is so complicated that even our best supercomputers can model only nuclei with very few components successfully and the higher the number of components, the worse it gets. Some are using simplied models to estimate half-lifes for different components, but these are unreliable. I admit that I have not studied the area for a long time, but I am not aware of continued experimental confirmations of proposed half-lifes. So if they are not there, I see those "predictions" as bullshitting. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 22:55
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When you have no moral issues with potentially being partly responsible for the death of millions of people, get hired by some third world country and make some weapon-grade Uranium 235 for their nuclear weapon program. Yes, I know you said "nothing radioactive". But Uranium will not "give you cancer over a day of exposure". It is an alpha radiator, which means its radiation won't even penetrate the upper layer of your skin. Just be sure to not inhale or ingest it, because then it will give you lung cancer and poison you chemically. But you said you are comfortable working with poisonous stuff, so that should be no problem for you. The same precautions which protect you from the most toxic chemicals will also protect you from uranium dust. Just keep it away from neutron sources... and don't put more than 50 kg of it in the same place at the same time or it will go critical.

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If you're a decent showman, you can get away with a whole lot with super basic elements, and make a fortune.

How? By becoming a magician, of course. Magic tricms are often kept secret, but you could announce exactly what you're doing, and people would think you're lying.

Take advantage of the fact that lead is dense and many other elements are not. 1.5 grams of helium fills a normal party baloon. It's a tiny bit of lead - a cube 5mm to a side. A small fishing line weight would do.

Heck, make it a chemistry show. Make some oxygen, make some hydrogen. Burn them and drink the water.

And for the tip of the iceberg, a special guest goes home with a small gold ring.

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    $\begingroup$ 1) make magic rock. 2) do cool party tricks 4) Profit! $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ A good magic show is 10% technique and 90% showmanship. Just being able to do something impossible won't make you famous in that business. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp That is correct. But if you have the showmanship required, being able to do actual impossible stuff could set you apart from everyone else. $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 12:53
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It will have to be gold.

Gold is stupid expensive because of its role in reassuring fearful folks. $1290 / ounce is crazy expensive for gold but that is the price right now.

Iridium is only 970 / ounce and platinum only $936.

The other reason gold is best is that this scenario is realistic enough that the alchemist wants to stay under the radar of government. If one starts offering for sale quantities of rare isotopes that will attract attention because it will be obvious there is some new source. Certainly that will be true for antimatter or superheavy elements from the island of stability. But a person can move gold in these quantities without attracting much attention at all.

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  • $\begingroup$ Violates last bullet in many countries that are serious about tax. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Molot - how so? Are there countries that prohibit the sale of gold? $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ I think organized crime investigators will start poking around when someone sells a lot of gold without apparent source, suspecting money laundering or some such $\endgroup$
    – lijat
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Will most of the European Union, USA and Canada prohibit money laundering, and sale of gold with unexplained origin would turn their systems on. Also, most of the countries have some kind of gift tax, inheritance tax, fees for mining etc and if you could prove that you are not money laundering, you would be asked which tax you avoided. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot - 100 grams of gold is only about 3 ounces per day, or about 1200 ounces per year. That's a comfortable income, but (in the US) probably not enough to trigger government interest. It's just too small. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 12:41
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If your "philosophers stone" can be reliably reproduced by anybody, then it is not a matter of alchemy - it has moved into the realm of testable experiments and thus science.

If it was me, I'd be spending the next couple year trying to see how this thing actually works and what part of our understanding of the structure of matter needs to be revised/expanded and how to roll this into the overall understanding of the universe.

The other end is the question of engineering applications of your device: could we power our homes with miniaturized fusion reactors if we had a reliable way to keep them fed with a few grams of He3 every day, for example? More generally: How could we incorporate your discovery into tomorrows way of life?

The only downside to a life of science that I can see is normally that being a scientist doesn't exactly pay terribly well - but someone who can make gold out of lead surely doesn't have to worry about money.

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    $\begingroup$ The inevitable Nobel prize does pay rather handsomely. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 6:28
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One I haven't seen yet is Helium-3. The price isn't super high right now, but if you can get in on the ground floor with a "super efficient production method" as supply is going to keep increasing then you won't have to deal with much competition.

One of it's main uses is going to be in fusion research, and so it's going to be a really big market down the road.

To give you an idea of how they see demand being, they are currently figuring out ways to mine it from the Moon.

How do you mine helium 3 on the moon? His team has estimated that it might cost around \$800 million to bring back each ton of lunar helium-3. This might sound like a lot, but if you could sell the fusion energy at a price comparable to gasoline based on oil at \$100 per barrel, the helium-3 would be worth $10 billion per ton.

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You're not specifying an objective. Everybody else just assumes you're looking for the most expensive stuff, but if you can make gold at will I am assuming that finances aren't a problem for you. Once you've spent a week or two making nothing but gold you ought to be able to ask what fun, interesting, useful, crazy things you can do that don't have to make a lot of money in the process.

(100g of Helium will fill a lot of balloons, for example. But I'm sure you can think of better things once we've clarified just what, exactly, you're trying to achieve...)

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    $\begingroup$ This answer goes into an interesting direction, but unfortunately falls short before it delivers. To make it upworth-worthy you would need to come up with some more interesting ideas than just making some helium balloons. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ Helium is exactly on track. (it's not just balloons). Rare earth elements are also on track. Possibly silicon, believe it or not. What we value depends on the market, and smart money is on following the oddballs, not gold. Making some gold first is prudent. The key is the objective. Timeframe, market, etc. $\endgroup$
    – SFWriter
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 0:24
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Gold is the best option. A single person with a prospector licence and a metal detector can wander out bush and have a lucky strike and return with gold without any questions.

Other metals might be more valuable but require more effort to collect it / refine it leading to questions of where you got it from.

If you want to make real money, selling the process to make it would earn you far far more.

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Antimatter

List of expensive substances

Why not, its atomic in nature and just as realistic as the rest of this topic

Its not banned (yet) Its not radioactive (though I wouldn't touch it, I wouldn't touch cyanide either or any isotope )

Though, if you want to stick to the periodic table then I go with californium. Work down that list.

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    $\begingroup$ Antimatter is radio active in contact with mater and finding a buyer and securing transport are non-trivial . Californium is valuable pretty strictly because it is radioactive. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ That doesn't make it radioactive, to be radioactive it must decay and release sub atomic particles (the name escapes my concern at the moment). Anti matter is completely stable...... Till it comes in contact with real matter $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @anon and it will come in contact with the normal matter because we don't have containment bottles for it yet. Thus, for practical purposes it is radioactive all right. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Molot, We have isolated it in magnetic fields. He can make a philosopher stone why not make a magnetic container $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Nothing even near to 100g in question. And op wants a day when CERN can keep it for 16 minutes: press.cern/press-releases/2011/06/… This means that for practical purposes no, we don't have any containment methods that would work here. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:55
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Stick to gold or diamonds, maybe silver. Why? This:

I can make any isotope, but only pure elements. No alloys.

I don't want to be flagged by the government, so nothing illegal / restricted.

Most things we use are alloys. Even lead on its surface is an alloy, lead & oxygen.

The problem is not what you make, but how you sell it. You need to make it as believable as you can that no one will doubt you are doing something out of the ordinary. The government will want it's share of the profits, that is not a problem. But it is a problem if they want your stone. Not to mention crime, and it's organised big brother.

Plan:

  1. Get a starting capital for the next steps:
  2. Get the best security you can buy.
  3. Setup company to keep everything legal.
  4. Buy plot of land with possibility of your preferred element(s).
  5. Try to have this plot of land in a western country, makes it easier to setup. And less worries about government take over & corruption. Canada seems like a good one.
  6. Get some very good lawyer types to do this properly.
  7. Automate the process.
  8. Replicate the stone.

Optional:

  1. Buy your own lead mine.
  2. Find the right partner to start family.
  3. Keep it a family secret.
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  • $\begingroup$ Why buy a lead mine? 100g a day isn't all that much. 36.5 kg per year - buying a lead mine for that is total overkill. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ If you can replicate the stone it might be worth it. But not at start-up. And it is to cover up that you need lead for your process. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ Buying a lead mine covers up that you need lead? It would literally be the first thing it points to. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ Well then, I probably will not pull this off the correct way to keep this stone a secret. ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:34
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Synth anything? A lot would depend on your character's access to buyers, as well as the nature of what they think is valuable. Personally, I'd go in the direction of spices rather than metals. Saffron which goes for from $2,000- $10,000 USD per ounce is significantly more valuable by weight than gold.

Anything rare or extinct could be auctioned. Anything urgently needed by an industry or area could be held ransom for near any price.

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  • $\begingroup$ Question specifically says that only pure elements can by synthed. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ Not only that, but saffron is worth less (\$11/gr) than gold (\$56/gr). So even under the "synth anything" rules this answer isn't very good (try taaffeites instead, at \$20,000/gr). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 5:06

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