Shot Towers

By Anupum Pant

The way of making lead musket balls before 1782 involved a lengthy process. And if you had a huge army, then you were in for a massive task. To make each ball:

  • A chunk of lead was melted in a crucible
  • Poured into a mould
  • It was let to stand to solidify
  • The mould was broken
  • Final finishing of each ball was done
  • and each ball was checked for roundness by rolling it on an inclined plane

Then everything changed in the year 1782, when a plumber from Bristol William Watts, got this seemingly simple idea – Drop molten lead from a long tower and let the surface tension do the work.

He got this idea by observing raindrops, which formed perfect spheres while they were free-falling. Before telling anyone about it, he tried implementing his idea. He dropped molten lead into a bath of water from the tower of his local church. It worked perfectly.

He did a couple of other experiments at home and finally patented his idea by the end of the same year. It wasn’t long until shot towers started sprouting all over the world. William made a good fortune out of this.

A shot tower is a long hollow building, like a light house, which has the machinery to melt lead at the top point. The molten lead is dropped into the long hollow shaft through sieves, and the bottom part of the building has a bath of water to catch lead balls. The free falling lead turns into a sphere due to surface tension and solidifies in air due to flowing air. After shots are made, they are lifted from the water and checked for roundness by making them roll on an inclined plane. Defective ones are sent back to the top.

The tallest shot tower ever built was 263 meters long and was constructed in the year 1882. It still stands in the Melbourne suburb of Clifton Hill in Australia. There are several others around the world which are still standing. While many others have either been destroyed by men or nature.

via [PSSA]

Turning Lead to Gold

By Anupum Pant

Hunt for a process to convert a brick of lead into gold was probably the most elusive quest during the olden times when alchemy was around. However, alchemists, who were mostly dismissed as pseudoscientific quacks, actually did some good ground work to make their dream of turning lead to gold into a reality.

And then came the 20th century, when transmutation of one element to another became fairly common. In fact nuclear reactors started working on the same principle. So, besides breaking of uranium atoms and combining of hydrogen atoms to form helium, did it actually become possible to transmute lead into gold using the same process?

Sure it did. Today it is totally possible to make lead (Atomic number 82) release 3 protons to turn into gold (Atomic number 79). Not just in theory, people have actually done it successfully in laboratories. For one, Glenn Seaborg is said to have done it in the year 1951.

To do this, you’d need a particle accelerator. And if you plan to use it as a get rich quick scheme, then you are in for a bad news. Transmuting lead to gold in a laboratory consumes massive amounts of energy, even if you have to do it in extremely minute volumes. So much that the price of doing it exceeds the price of gold by a very big amount. Also, only a very minute volume of gold comes out this way.

To make a single ounce of gold this, it would cost you one quadrillion dollars. You could just buy the same amount for $1300 instead.