By Jon Matonis
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Beyond stable isotopes and naturally-occurring materials are the superheavy elements or SHEs. Scientists have recently added
two new man-made elements to the periodic table — flerovium (element
114) and livermorium (element 116), with chemical symbols Fl and Lv.
After being created by smashing atoms together, these materials decay within seconds but long-lived SHEs are a theoretical possibility. This undiscovered
region in the periodic table where heavy elements become stable again
is known as the “island of stability,” first proposed by Glenn Seaborg
in the late 1960s. If individuals prefer something more tangible over an
amorphous cryptocurrency like bitcoin, then the edges of molecular
matter in a nanotechnology future may hold the answer.
If some form of physical specie is even useful in an era of
ubiquitous artificial molecular machine systems, money would still
require certain attributes such as being a store of value, divisible,
portable, safe, unable to counterfeit, and self-validating.
Nanotechnology scientist Robert Freitas suggests that the future of money lies with elements like flerovium, or what he refers to as tangible nanomoney. Flerovium
is a radioactive chemical element first created in 1999 at the Flerov
Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions in Dubna, Russia by colliding
Plutonium-244 and Calcium-48 nuclei. Prior to May 30th, 2012, the
unstable isotope was known as ununquadium.
After restricting his analysis to ordinary matter, as opposed to
antimatter, Freitas compares the rarest elements along the natural
isotope spectrum of potential monetary candidates such as technetium,
helium, xenon, osmium, tantalum, and gold (however in a nano-age, easily
extractable inert rare elements will have alternatives). Ultimately
concluding that a man-made superheavy element like flerovium best fits
the overall criteria for physical specie, he describes how the element
could likely be introduced into society circulating as coinage.
A flerovium coin would be fused with cheaper bioinert materials of
the nano-age such as gold, platinum or diamond. Such a coin would be
sufficiently costly to manufacture and have a relatively long half life,
possessing negligible radiation and biotoxicity risk due to the very
low concentration of SHE trace amounts.
These hypothetical SHE coins would be stable and long-lived. Freitas estimates that a coin with $1 million face value would only need to contain 10⁹ SHE atoms worth $0.001/atom. Therefore, assuming a
10⁶-year half life, there would be only ~2 disintegration events per
day putting it well below the disintegration levels of today’s base
metal coinage. Rather than suffering from the insidious effects of
government-induced inflation and coin clipping, market-based nanomoney
would lose value due to radioactive decay. A million-dollar coin would
lose approximately ~$0.50 per year or ~$500 per millennium from
In addition to flerovium, Freitas admits that some other relatively
stable superheavy elements may also be “coined” for the ultimate
tangible nanomoney. So that’s the choice for our nonpolitical money of
the singularity — low radiation coinage or digital bitcoin, you decide.