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By Matthew Lasley
For Metal Tech News 

Swiss scientists create lightweight gold

Many attributes of standard 18-carat gold but much lighter Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – August 5, 2020

 

Last updated 8/4/2020 at 12:34pm

Swiss researchers create 18 carat gold polymer light gold foam

ETH Zurich; Gustav Nyström, Raffaele Mezzenga

This 20-carat gold foam nugget floating on a cappuccino is 1,000 times lighter than conventional gold but is nearly impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye.

If you have ever gone jewelry shopping, one of the first things that you notice when you pick up a gold ring or necklace, is its weight. Your brain is tuned to gravity and the weight of gold is noticeable, after all, it is nearly nineteen times heavier than water.

Over the last decade, researchers have been looking for a way to make gold "lighter" in order to create lighter devices that often use gold in their circuitry. About five years ago, researches in Switzerland struck gold; light gold that is. Using a polymer mix consisting of milk proteins, they made gold into the consistency of a foam that could float on top of water which is good news for any of you that have ever dropped your ring in the shower or the ocean.

Despite being a huge breakthrough, its application was limited since it didn't possess all the attributes of pure or alloyed gold.

Earlier this year, the same Swiss team shared that they were able to use the same process to create an 18-carat "plastic" gold that is nearly one-tenth the weight of normal alloyed 18-carat gold. And yet, unlike its predecessor, it has many of the same attributes as normal gold while reacting like a dense plastic.

In truth, they are not making gold any lighter, but instead are creating tiny air pockets inside and strengthening the structure with the milk protein polymer mixture. The mixture contains enough gold to maintain both quality and responsiveness of 18 carat gold that can be worked at lower temperatures and is much lighter.

It isn't likely that people will be picking out super light floating wedding rings anytime soon, but other widespread applications could see a huge boost. Lighter phones, reducing the weight in electric cars and solar panels, medical applications and much more could all benefit from light gold.

Currently it costs NASA about $10,000 per pound to go into space. Being able to shave off pounds using this lighter gold in electronics and ultraviolet coating could be a huge step in helping NASA to reach its goal of reducing payload cost to just $100 per pound.

There is still more research that needs to be done to sort out the limitations of light gold, its cost effectiveness and durability, but it has opened the door for applications to altering the weight of other metals and materials creating lighter and more cost-efficient renewable energy and communications.

 

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