If you want to become an alchemist then it is important that you read this post carefully and pick all the points. The origins of alchemy date back to the great civilizations of antiquity, though it arguably reached its zenith in medieval Europe. Many souls devoted their lives to the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone which, it was believed, had the properties to be able to confer immortality and transmute base metals into gold.

In its most advanced form, alchemy combined the burgeoning medieval knowledge of chemistry with a complex spiritual belief system. Its practitioners including famous men of science such as Tycho Brahe and Sir Isaac Newton. So far as we know, though, no one ever discovered the philosopher’s stone itself – and if they did, we must assume they did not tell anybody and disappeared to live a life of quiet decadence on a yacht in the Mediterranean. So could you be the one who turns lead into gold?

If you want to go down the traditional route, study the plethora of books on the subject from throughout the ages. A dusty library is essential for any budding alchemist, as is a laboratory, replete with oddly shaped glassware and mysterious bubbling potions. But alchemy is not merely about chemicals – it is rich in symbolism, and requires that you go on a personal journey. Consider growing a long beard, through which you can run your fingers meaningfully while puzzling on the great mysteries of creation.

Today, however, modern physics and chemistry offer us a new kind of alchemy whose secrets lie with the capricious, fascinating but highly toxic liquid metal mercury. Gold and mercury are close chemical cousins – they sit next to each other on the periodic table of the elements, with ‘atomic numbers’ of 79 and 80 respectively. And under certain circumstances, mercury can indeed be transmuted into gold.

The similarity of the atomic numbers indicates that their individual atoms have similar structures. Mercury’s higher number shows that it has one more positively charged particle (proton) and one more negatively charged electron than gold – strip these away and you’ve struck the yellow stuff. Scientists have demonstrated this in experiments that involved bombarding mercury atoms with highenergy particles in a nuclear reactor, although the costs of production far outweighed the market value of gold. So for the time being you’re probably better off sticking with your glass retorts, test tubes and a pestle and mortar.