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Hello again and welcome Kibitzers! I finally have an opportunity to share one of my favorite recipes with you. It is an ancient formula for an exotic elixir, a regal brew with a fascinating tale.

What might this curious commixture be? We begin by mixing up something known as regal water and then we add some GOLD! So, as they might say on Breaking Bad, "Let's start the cook!"

Kitchen Table Kibitzing is a community series for those who wish to share part of their evening around a virtual kitchen table with kossacks who are caring and supportive of one another. So bring your stories, jokes, photos, funny pics, music, interesting videos, and so forth. We would also appreciate links—including quotations—to diaries, news stories, and books that you think this community would appreciate. Please note that pie fights will be unwelcome in this community, just as in most other series at DKos. Finally, readers may notice that most who are posting diaries and comments in this series already know one another to some degree, but that definitely does not mean that newcomers will be excluded or unwelcome. We're happy to welcome guests to our kitchen table, and hope to make some new friends as well. KTK posts nightly at 5:00 Pacific, 6:00 Mountain, 7:00 Central, 8:00 Eastern.


  • 60 ml concentrated hydrochloric acid or Muriatic acid (HCl)
  • 20 ml concentrated nitric acid (HNO3)
  • 10 mg 24 karat gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79. It is a dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal with a bright yellow color and luster that is considered attractive, which is maintained without tarnishing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements, solid under standard conditions.Wiki
Under a hood carefully pour the hydrochloric acid into a 200ml beaker then slowly and very carefully blend in the nitric acid. Do not spill or splash. You may, if you wish, stir the admixture with a glass rod (again very carefully). You've completed step one by creating aqua regia (the royal water). Now you may add the gold to your nitric acid hydrochloride potion.

Pretty cool, huh? Here's what's going on...

Au (s) + 3 NO3(aq) + 6 H+(aq) → Au3+(aq) + 3 NO2 (g) + 3 H2O (l)

and then

Au3+(aq) + 4Cl(aq) → AuCl−4(aq).

Tetrachloroauric acid (AuCl−4(aq)), yum!

Seriously, though, you do not want to drink or even get any of this on you or you'll have a tale to tell of your very own. Speaking of tales, onward.

The Tale

Max von Laue and James Franck certainly didn't expect that their country would come to be entangled in an anti-semitic frenzy when they won their Nobel Prizes in 1915 and 1925, respectively, but by 1933—when the Nazi's came to power in Germany—the future was writ large upon the wall. Within months of Hitler's ascendance he had the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service passed in April of 1933 on the very heels of the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933.

Under the Enabling Act neither the consent of the Reichstag nor the signature of the President of the Republic was any longer required for the promulgation of law. The amendment for Hindenburg was thus a matter of political expediency, not of legal necessity.Wiki

James Franck and Max von Laue, being rather bright fellows, realized that their 6.4 ounce 23 carat gold Nobel Prize medals would not be safe in their possession with Hitler in power. They knew the avaricious Nazi government could and probably would find some pretext to relieve them of the symbols of their genius and hard work. For von Laue it was because he took pains to be a pain in the ass for the Hitler's government, for Franck it was because he was, well, he was ein untermensch. So they sent their prized medallions to their friend and colleague Neils Bohr in Coppenhagen for safe keeping. Sending their medals out of the country, by the way, was also illegal, quite possibly a capital offense and that is where our tale begins.

Though not Jewish, von Laue was a vocal opponent of the Nazi's anti-semitic policies. In particular he articulated an opposition to the previously mentioned Civil Service Law and exercised his caustic wit at every possible occasion even when speaking at high profile events.
von Laue, as chairman of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, gave the opening address at the 1933 physics convention. In it, he compared the persecution of Galileo and the oppression of his scientific views on the Solar theory of Copernicus to the then conflict and persecution over the theory of relativity by the proponents of Deutsche Physik, against the work of Einstein, labeled “Jewish physics.”Wiki

Albert Einstein in 1904
Einstein, by the way, surrendered his passport and renounced his citizenship upon his return to Europe from the United States at the German consulate in Belgium at the end of March 1933. By May, Einstein's books were being burned and he was a target for assassination with a $5,000 bounty. Einstein made a wise and prescient decision to not give the Nazis the chance to humiliate or worse the man who was the very personification of 'Jewish physics'.

The physics conference mentioned above was not the only venue where von Laue voiced his palpable distaste for the Nazis. He spoke out again against the regime at a memorial he and Max Planck organized for Fritz Haber
Fritz Haber
Fritz Haber
1918 Nobel Winner
after his death. Haber had emigrated rather than work for the Third Reich. Even though he had a special dispensation from the law and even government funding because of his genius and, more importantly, his weapons research he decided to leave the country because he couldn't abide with the racism and disrespect that his fellow Jewish scientists would be forced to endure.

Max Theodor Felix von Laue
Max Theodor Felix von Laue (9 October 1879 – 24 April 1960) was a German physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1914 for his discovery of the diffraction of X-rays by crystals. In addition to his scientific endeavors with contributions in optics, crystallography, quantum theory, superconductivity, and the theory of relativity, he had a number of administrative positions which advanced and guided German scientific research and development during four decades. A strong objector to National Socialism, he was instrumental in re-establishing and organizing German science after World War II.Wiki

DDR Stamp of Max von Laue and Laue diffraction pattern
DDR Stamp of Max von Laue and Laue diffraction pattern
von Laue choose to stand against the injustice and intolerance of the Nazi state at some, though not fatal, expense to his career. He lost the directorship of the Kaiser Wilhelm
Peter Joseph William Debye FRS[1] (March 24, 1884 u2013 November 2, 1966) was a Dutch physicist and physical chemist, and Nobel laureate in Chemistry.
Peter Debye
1936 Nobel Winner
Institute for Physics to Peter Debye from 1935 to 1939, though he regained the position he inhertited from Einstein when Einstein didn't return to Germany in 1933. von Laue remained in Germany at least until he was taken into custody by the Allies and interned in England to prevent the Russian's from doing likewise and returned to Germany in 1946.

That von Laue was an honorable man goes without question. He could have easily gone along and played it safe like so many of his colleagues (Peter Debye, for example), yet he held firm to his ideals. He made the right choice as history would record it, but it was his choice. For his friend and collegue James Franck, however, the situation in Nazi Germany was considerably simpler and simply stated, James Franck was a Jew.

James Franck
James Franck was born on August 26, 1882, in Hamburg, Germany. After attending the Wilhelm Gymnasium there, he studied mainly chemistry for a year at the University of Heidelberg, and then studied physics at the University of Berlin, where his principal tutors were Emil Warburg and Paul Drude. He received his Ph.D. at Berlin in 1906 under Warburg, and after a short period as an assistant in Frankfurt-am-Main, he returned to Berlin to become assistant to Heinrich Rubens. In 1911, he obtained the "venia legendi" for physics to lecture at the University of Berlin, and remained there until 1918 (with time out for the war in which he was awarded the Iron Cross, first class) as a member of the physics faculty having achieved the rank of associate
James Franck seems not to have been as politically active as von Laue obviously was. I suspect that the Nobel Prize winning experimental physicist preferred his lab to the intrigues of university politics as his biography doesn't mention much more than his academic accomplishments from his time at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and the University of Göttingen, but that's not to say
Gustav Ludwig Hertz
1925 Nobel Winner
that he was apolitical, nor that he wasn't at the forefront of the some of the most momentous events of his time. Of course, in the end, it may have just been his ancestry that either excluded or inhibited him politically. It was the experiments he performed with Gustav Ludwig Hertz from 1912 through 1914 that empirically confirmed Neils Bohr's atomic theory that won Franck and Hertz the Nobel prize in 1925. He was also an integral member of the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago (part of the the Manhattan Project) and chairman of the Committee on Political and Social Problems which authored the The Frank Report, finished in early June of 1945, which recommended against the use of atomic weapons.
After Hitler came to power in 1933 Franck and his family moved to Baltimore to escape the evident and growing anti-semitism of the new German regime. He took a position at Johns Hopkins University for about a year then spent a year in Coppenhagen as a guest lecturer. He returned to Johns Hopkins in 1935 and then took a position at the University of Chicago in 1938 where he remained until his sudden death while visiting Göttingen in 1964 at the age of 81.

Neils Bohr, who worked at the Institute of Theoretical Physics (which he started) in Copenhagen, Denmark received Max von Laue and James Franck's prizes sometime after 1933. From that time until the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in 1940 the medals were safe in Bohr's custody. You may not know that each recipient's name is engraved on their Nobel Prize medal, so if they had been discovered by the Germans it could have been curtains for von Laue. Although Franck had emigrated to the United States by that time he certainly would have been sentenced in absentia for exporting gold out of Germany. So Bohr was in quite a quandry about what to do with the Nobel medallions.  He and George de Hevesy huddled up to figure out what to do. I suspect that that means that the boss, Neils, left it to George to hide the huge coins. Hevesy suggested that they bury them which Bohr didn't like. He knew the Germans would ransack his beloved institution (which they did) and was afraid that the prizes would be found. So Hevesy turned to his discipline, chemistry. He took the two medals and using our recipe above dissolved the medals in aqua regia, put the bottled solution up on the shelf and waited until the Germans left. From Sam Kean's book The Disappearing Spoon.

...When the Nazis ransacked Bohr's institute, they scoured the building for loot or evidence of wrongdoing but left the beaker of orange aqua regia untouched. Hevesy was forced to flee to Stockholm in 1943, but when he returned to his battered laboratory after V-E Day, he found the innocuous beaker undisturbed on a shelf.
It was a simple matter precipitating out the gold from solution and sending it back to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm to be recast into von Laue and Franck's Nobel medallions. Both von Laue and Franck were re-presented their Nobel medals in 1952.

Below we have my favorite chemistry professor, Dr. Martyn Poliakoff talking about our reaction and a bit about our tale

Well,  I hope you found this little kibitz at least mildly amusing and slightly informative. I do not want to hear about any of y'all ending up with acid burns, so if you must play with chemicals please be very careful. As always, thanks for taking the time.


Originally posted to Kitchen Table Kibitzing on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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