New Form Of Lab-Made Gold Is Better And Golder Than Nature's Pathetic Version

Synthetic gold (not the new type), made in a laboratory, is pretty much the same as the natural version. Alchemist-hp/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0

Robin Andrews 05 Jul 2018, 18:15

Gold is amazingly weird. For one thing, it's now thought that much of it came from aftermaths of the collisions of two super-dense neutron stars. Some of this atomic gold, sprayed across the cosmos, managed to coalesce under gravity, get trapped in a newly-formed Earth, undergo a suite of geological processes, and ultimately pop up at the surface.

Its considerably epic cosmic journey is certainly something to marvel at, as is the fact that it's useful for so many things besides jewelry. Now, as spotted by New Scientist, we’ve made a new form of gold that’s golder than ever before, and it's bonkers.

There’s no other element quite like gold, and it’s all down to its electrons. ZMEScience has a great explainer in this regard; although there’s plenty of detail to dive into, the long and short of it is that gold absorbs a lot of the lower wavelengths of visible light, i.e. the blues.

That means we’re left with the remaining hues, which form a gold color. Other elements don’t do this, with the exception of caesium, for similar wavelength-eating reasons.

The second key point is that gold is a Noble metal, meaning it’s inert: boringly resistant to corrosion and oxidation. It’ll remain golden over the millennia, unlike plenty of other important metals – copper, say – which quickly corrodes as the days go by.

So how could we possibly make gold even more golden, then? Making gold in a laboratory has been done before, but to accomplish this particular task, we’d have to fiddle with its chemical properties to make it even less reactive to the world around it than it already is, all without altering its wavelength-absorbing properties.

Tricky stuff. Fortunately, back in 2015, the seeds of success were planted.

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