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"You know my friend Ben Rothersburger, right?", asked Grandpa.

"No" I said

"He is a brilliant chemist, I think. He told me that he can turn a radioactive metal into a gas!" Grandpa.

"No way"

"And Ben said he can also turn a couple of gases into a couple of different gases very quickly" Grandpa with a smile.

"I seriously doubt that", my comment.

"O yes son. He can even take the stuff from the matches and turn them into diamonds!" Grandpa declared.

That is ridiculous. Is it possible? How does Ben do all that (if he isn't lying)?

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I think what Ben Rothersburger does is

Apply a rot13 cipher to the chemical symbol of the elements involved

"He is a brilliant chemist, I think. He told me that he can turn a radioactive metal into a gas!" Grandpa.

This is turning U (Uranium) into H (Hydrogen)

"And Ben said he can also turn a couple of gases into a couple of different gases very quickly" Grandpa with a smile.

He can turn Ne (Neon) into Ar (Argon)
He can turn Xe (Xenon) into Kr (Krypton)

"O yes son. He can even take the stuff from the matches and turn them into diamonds!" Grandpa declared.

He can turn P (Phosphorus) into C (Carbon).

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  • $\begingroup$ Beat me. I type too slow! $\endgroup$
    – Amoz
    Jun 7 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ this question is a load of rot $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Jun 7 at 15:48
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ so is your comment $\endgroup$
    – DrD
    Jun 7 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ @justhalf ROThersburger and the name has 13 letters, clearly! $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 7:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ah, the number of letters. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Jun 8 at 8:33
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This does not require being a particularly brilliant chemist—nor does it require any trickery or riddling. All of these operations are possible, if not straightforward.

He told me that he can turn a radioactive metal into a gas!

As just one example, the radioactive metal uranium (U) can be converted into a gas. In fact, this is a normal step in the process of converting naturally-occurring uranium (which is mined) into nuclear fuel. Naturally-occurring uranium is mined from rocks and (through various means that are not important) converted into a solution. That solution is separated, filtered, and dried to produce concentrated uranium oxide, which is often referred to as "yellowcake", since it is a yellow powder. In order to turn this into the type of fuel that is used by nuclear reactors (U-235), it is "enriched", which increases the U-235 concentration from <1% to 3–5%. The enrichment process requires gaseous uranium, so the solid uranium oxide is converted to uranium hexafluoride, which is a gas at relatively low temperatures.

As another example, the radioactive metal thorium (Th) can be converted into one of various compounds, such as ThBr4, via bromination. These actinide tetrabromides occur in a gaseous state. See, for example, Hildenbrand et al., 1990 and Beeching et al., 2001.

[H]e can also turn a couple of gases into a couple of different gases very quickly.

Sure: hydrogen (H) can be fused into helium (He). This is called "nuclear fusion". The sun does it. Well, maybe this would require a pretty brilliant chemist to accomplish here on earth. Especially safely. :-)

How about transforming fluorine (F) gas into neon (Ne) gas by bombarding it with x-particles? That works, if you believe that Ben Rothersburger must be talking about elemental transformations.

If Ben isn't limiting himself to working with elemental gases for his transformation (and he doesn't claim to be anywhere that I can see), then that opens up a whole bunch of possibilities. Methane, for example, can be converted into carbon dioxide using some chemical catalysts—in fact, this is something chemists are looking into as a way to combat climate change. And there are various catalysts for converting CO2 into O2.

Without catalysts? Sure, that's possible, too. Combine gaseous HCl and F2 in a simple replacement reaction to get chlorine gas:

2HCl + F2 → 2HF + Cl2

He can even take the stuff from the matches and turn them into diamonds!

Well, yeah. Matches contain carbon, which can be made into diamonds under high temperature and pressure. A team led by Francis Bundy at General Electric back in the 1960s used large-volume presses to turn carbon into diamonds at only 15 kbars of pressure (although that reaction was very slow). Even higher pressures can be used to speed up the transformation, as well as certain catalysts (like nickel) to accelerate the kinetics. This is done regularly on a fairly large scale to produce synthetic diamonds for industrial applications. Note that Ben doesn't claim to be able to do this one "quickly" or "cheaply".

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The nuclear fusion idea is interesting, but for a less dramatic effect, every not-so-brilliant chemist can turn a couple of gases into a couple of different gases very quickly every time they light a gas stove. $\endgroup$
    – joH1
    Jun 8 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting alternative answer, although the OP does have the riddle tag suggesting the answer isn't so direct. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ Except.. it's not a riddle, doesn't use any metaphors or allegories to conceal the answer, and doesn't meet any of the guidelines/requirements in the linked tag wiki, @Randal'Thor. $\endgroup$
    – Cody Gray
    Jun 8 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ Even better for the first one: take radium-226 (the longest-lived isotope of metal radium) and wait: it decays to radon-222, a gas! $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Jun 8 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate the depth of the answer, but judging by the track record of the asker, one would have expected this question to be an actual puzzle, regardless of any inaccuracies in the tagging. $\endgroup$
    – oAlt
    Jun 8 at 13:01

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