Water Into Liquid Gold Alchemy Experiment


Water Into Liquid Gold Alchemy Experiment
Turning water into liquid gold is an alchemy experiment that makes orpiment crystals in water.

Turning water into gold is one of the goals of alchemy, the study pre-dating modern chemistry and still of interest today. The process of turning water or lead into gold involves transmutation. Physicists achieve this using particle accelerators, successfully transmuting a few atoms of lead into gold. Changing water into actual gold isn’t feasible, yet there are ways of making water appear golden and metallic. Here is how to turn water into “gold” yourself.

Materials

Turn water into gold by mixing two clear solutions:

Solution A

Stir sodium arsenite into water and then mix in the glacial acetic acid.

Sodium arsenite also goes by the name sodium meta-arsenite. It’s available online and from chemical supply companies, both in solid and solution forms. If you use either sodium arsenite solution or regular (diluted) acetic acid, account for the water already in the solution.

Solution B

  • 10 grams sodium thiosulfate (Na2S2O3)
  • 50 ml water

Simply stir sodium thiosulfate into water.

Turn Water Into Liquid Gold

All you do is pour one solution into the other. After about 30 seconds, the clear liquid turns golden.

If you’re doing the reaction as a chemistry or alchemy demonstration, first time the reaction, which proceeds at a rate mainly depending on temperature. Then, for the audience, say a magic word just before the color change, commanding the water to turn into gold. Arsenic and its compounds are toxic, so avoid contact with the liquid.

Orpiment and Realgar on Quartz
Orpiment and Realgar on Quartz (Robert M. Lavinsky, iRocks.com, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

The Chemistry Behind the Alchemy

The chemical reaction between acetic acid and sodium thiosulfate releases hydrogen sulfide gas and makes arsenic trisulfide (As2S3), which is more commonly known as orpiment. Orpiment is a golden yellow mineral popular as a pigment. Orpiment has a golden color and appears metallic under some conditions. Both Western and Chinese alchemists were so taken with the color that they experimented to see if they could extract gold or transmute the substance.

A Modern Method of Turning Water Into Gold

More recently, chemists have transformed water into a golden metallic state that even conducts electricity. In this case, water turns metallic when it’s in a thin layer surrounding the metals sodium and potassium. These alkali metals readily donate electrons. These electrons dope the water, changing its color and making it conductive. Ordinarily, water directly reacts with alkali metals, but the scientists suppressed the explosive reaction by absorbing any water vapor.

Other nonmetals also take metallic states. Usually, this involves extreme pressure. The gas giants, such as Uranus or Neptune, likely have metallic hydrogen cores and may even contain metallic water. Oxygen also forms a metallic allotrope under pressure exceeding 96 GPa.

References

  • Castelvecchi, Davide (2021). “Water transformed into shiny, golden metal.’ Nature. 58: 18.
  • Fitzhugh, E.W. (1997). “Orpiment and Realgar.” in Artists’ Pigments, A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics, Vol 3: E.W. Fitzhugh (Ed.) Oxford University Press.
  • Mason, P.E.; Schewe, H. C., Buttersack, T.; et al. (2021). “Spectroscopic evidence for a gold-coloured metallic water solution.” Nature. 595: 673-676.
  • Mesny, William (1899 and 1905). Mesny’s Chinese Miscellany. A Text Book of Notes on China and the Chinese. Vol.III & Vol. IV. Shanghai.
  • St. Clair, Kassia (2016). The Secret Lives of Colour. London: John Murray. 82–83. ISBN 9781473630819.