Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The curious case of an experiment with alchemy

Atul Sethi,TNN
On one of the walls of the Birla temple in New Delhi is engraved an unusual inscription. Unusual, because it contains an amazing first-person account of an alchemical experiment purportedly conducted in the early 1940s in Delhi, which was witnessed by a few prominent people of that time. It was an experiment in which mercury was successfully transformed into gold — or so the inscription claims. Here's a translation of how the inscription, in Hindi, describes the event:

"On 27 May 1942 AD (Jyaistha Shukla 1 Samvat 1998) in Birla House, New Delhi Shri Pandit Krishnapal Sharma made approximately 1 tola of gold from 1 tola of mercury in front of us. The mercury was put inside a shell of reetha. In the mercury was mixed about 1 or 11/2 ratti of a white powder of some herb (jari-buti) and another yellow powder. Then the reetha shell was closed by clay and the whole thing put into the hollow of an earthen lamp and put on fire. For about 45 minutes, the fire was stoked by a fan till the coal got burnt completely to ashes. The lamp was then put into water to remove the contents. From the hollow of the earthen lamp a lump of gold was extracted. On weighing it was found to be one or two ratti less than 1 tola. It was very dry.

"We could not find out what these two powders were. Pandit Krishnapal stood at a distance of 10 to 15 feet from us during this whole process. Present at that time were Shri Amritlal B Thakkar (prime minister, All India Hindu Sevak Sangh) Shri Goswami Ganesh Duttji Lahore, secretary, Birla Mills, Delhi, Shri Sitaramji Kemka, chief engineer Shri Wilson and Shri Viyogi Hari. All were quite amazed to witness the process. We could witness this process by the kindness of Shriman Seth Jugal Kishore Birla."

A similar inscription also exists at Varanasi's Birla temple:

"In the month of charitra mas, Samvat 1999 (Indian calendar, 1943), a resident of Punjab, staying in Kashi, one Pandit Krishnapal Rasavaidya performed the experiment in Rishikesh in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi's PA Mahadeva Desai and Goswami Ganesh Dutta and G K Birla. Mercury provided by Desai was made into gold, about 18 kg in weight.

"This was given as donation to Samadhan Dharma Pratinidhi Sabha, Punjab which fetched Rs 72,000 to the said trust. Sri Krishnapal repeated this experiment in the presence of Pratap Singh, Benaras Hindu University."

What prompted the detailing of these experiments on the walls of the Birla temples? The reason, according to V K Mishra, administrator of the Birla temple in Delhi, was to make people aware of the vast alchemical knowledge possessed by ancient Indian rishis, who apparently knew the secret of converting mercury into gold.

In fact, there are plenty of references in ancient Indian texts to this kind of alchemy. Researchers say that if they indeed occurred, they'd be a type of low-energy nuclear reaction, popularly termed cold fusion. This is a field that has always been surrounded by controversy, as modern science has consistently refused to believe that cold fusion — essentially a nuclear reaction taking place at room temperature — is possible. "With our present knowledge of the known facts of condensed matter of physics, there is no explanation for cold fusion," admits Amit Roy, director of the Inter-University Accelerator Centre in Delhi. "However, if proven, it could re-write the rules of science," he adds. Among other benefits, cold fusion could lead to the development of a clean, decentralised (gridless) source of power. This opens up limitless possibilities, as virtually every house can then create its own electricity using clean sources of fuel like water, without producing any radioactive or hazardous waste. Also, when perfected, cold fusion can yield results of the kind described in the Birla temple inscriptions.

Mahadeva Srinivasan, former associate director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), who was among the first to conduct research in this field in India and is now one of the country's foremost advocates of cold fusion, believes this kind of alchemical conversion is perfectly possible. "I am personally convinced that alchemy, namely conversion of mercury to gold is true," he asserts. The basis of Srinivasan's confidence lies in the research he conducted between 1989 and 1994 at BARC which, he says, yielded very positive results. "Because of the results we got, we started pursuing this field with great interest and hope. Unfortunately, it was killed in India by some senior scientists," he says.

In fact, the opposition to cold fusion isn't restricted to India alone. Ever since the first claims of this effect were made in 1989 by two Utah University researchers, scientists have viewed such claims with scepticism, primarily because the results of cold fusion experiments have not always been consistent and reproducible. Also, not much has been understood about how and why such reactions occur. "The physics of these reactions still remains a mystery," says Srinivasan. However, recent research, especially by Japanese physicist Yoshiaki Arata, has made some headway. A demonstration conducted by Arata on May 22 reported a high degree of reproducibility, raising hopes that cold fusion reactions can perhaps become a reality.

But while China, Russia and Japan are pumping money into cold fusion research, India continues to lag behind. "It's ironical that funding agencies are not encouraging research in this field though it is much cheaper than many other types of atomic research underway in the country. This is primarily because top scientists have closed their eyes to its possibilities. It's time they woke up to its reality," says Srinivasan.

Sceptics might not be convinced in a hurry. But here's a tantalising thought: In case cold fusion research succeeds, experiments of the kind mentioned in the Birla temple inscriptions might just turn into a scientific reality.
source: Times of India