Author: Ian McKinley
In technical forensics, the worst place to work is a university. There you find sophisticated, cutting-edge equipment, with interfaces so user-friendly that application requires no fundamental understanding of their operational principles. Such kit is often claimed to be idiot-proof but, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean student-proof!
As prime investigator, I was the first to enter the cavernous lab when temperatures dropped sufficiently. The bulkhead door creaked open and I peered in, amazed that the basement had been capable of withstanding the blast, before remembering that it had hosted a research reactor sometime in the distant past. There was a crater where the meson-resonance transmuter had stood and other parts of the floor, ceiling and walls were covered with a glassy coating of whatever remained of the room’s original contents. I fancied that the faint pink colouration could be evidence that the perpetrator had been hoist by his own petard, in a rather literal manner, but it was actually more likely that all traces of him had disappeared with the off-gasses.
I automatically checked my dosimeter – a little above background, but no significant hazard. My pad pinged the black box – actually an eye-watering shade of scarlet – but it was clearly visible, imbedded in the concrete wall to my left, just above head height. All I had to do was enter my over-ride code to download a record of the last experiment and cause a holographic summary to appear.
The machine was used to produce radiopharmaceutical isotopes, which explained what a post-grad with a background in molecular engineering was doing in the lab in the first place. I could guess what he thought that he was going to achieve by forcing a half kilo of depleted uranium, probably taken from shielding in the lab next door, into the irradiation chamber and setting the resonance for Au-197. But surely even the dumbest of students would have wondered why the original sample holder was dimensioned to hold milligrams of substrate or questioned the need to disconnect four different safety interlocks in order to initiate the transmutation?
Within a couple of minutes searching the web, I was informed that this technology was actually a spin-off from muon-catalysed fusion, which finally transformed that long over-hyped power source into routine commercial operation. Evidently, transmutation into gold would proceed until the runaway energy release vaporised the entire machine. Those who won’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it! Why do these guys never think to check if any other idiot has tried the same thing? They would have not only learned about the inevitable catastrophic explosion, but also the calculated value of the sub-nanometre thick layer of gold on the lab walls – somewhere around 80 cents.