The city of El Dorado was a myth created by the Europeans and it was purported to be a city that had unending reserves of gold. Also known as the myth of the Golden King, it was said that the coronation ceremony involved the new king being covered in gold and washed off in an adjacent lake. Although this happened sometime around the Middle Ages, our fascination with gold began much earlier and continues to this day. These are some amazing facts about gold.
1. Gold is Medicine
No, I’m not talking about gold being the medicine for your financial woes but rather its use for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis by injecting gold-based salts directly into the affected joint. There are also various projects in development that will employ gold nanoparticles to diagnose prostate cancer and HIV where there’s a lack of facilities and infrastructure to do so in a traditional way. There is already a very successful malaria test that uses gold nanoparticles in its application. Furthermore, a radioactive isotope of gold can be inserted in the tissue of a patient as radiotherapy for certain types of cancers. Amazingly, it had even been used as a dental implant by the Celts as early as the 3rd century BCE and, to a limited extent, is still used today in the same way although the biggest market for gold dental implants in recent years has been heavily tattooed rappers.
2. It’s Rare Because it Came from Space [cue space music]
All of the gold on Earth (and many other precious metals) is hypothesized to have originated from a meteor that crashed into our blue marble 4 billion years ago. This wasn’t one of your run-of-the-mill meteors though it was blinged out, and brought with it 20 billion billion tons of gold and precious metals including platinum. That’s 20.000.000.000.000.000.000 tons worth of material. I’d like to see the gold on your teeth compete with that, Mr. Hip-Hop Von Rappington.
3. It’s Biocompatible
Gold is not only biocompatible, meaning that it’s not rejected when introduced into the body, it actually is one of the noble metals, meaning that it doesn’t oxidize, rust or react (fine, you dork, easily) with any other elements on a chemical level. You can even eat it, not that it would have any other benefit to you than grossly inflating the price of your meal (or desert) and making it shiny. But, hey, if you have the attention span of a three-year-old and the bank account of an affluent seventy-year-old: Shiny Golden Food!
4. The Biggest Gold Nugget
The biggest gold nugget in the world weighed about as much as a petite man at 150 lbs. or 68 kg. Named the Welcome Nugget, it was found in Australia and it is said that the first two miners that laid eyes on it fainted on the spot. I guess prospectors aren’t the rough and tumble types Hollywood has shown us them to be. Damn you Hollywood and your lack of historical accuracy!
5. South Africa the Gilded
Two-thirds of world’s gold is mined from South Africa and seventy-eight percent of it is used as jewelry. The electronics industry uses a whopping 320 tons of gold (and 7,500 tons of silver for those interested). The reason is because it’s an excellent conductor of electricity and (as mentioned above) doesn’t corrode. It’s also extremely malleable, making the manufacturing process much easier compared to other metals or alloys.
6. There’s more Gold in your Phone than the Earth
Or just simply E-waste recycling. As our gadgets become cheaper to make and easier to upgrade, our electronic waste increases, too. And those electronics have gold in them (“Thars gold in them thar phooones!” says the time-traveling old timey prospector or eco-hipster that dresses like it’s still the 1800s). How much gold you ask, you greedy bugger. One ton of phones contain 340g of gold, according to the 2009 report commissioned by UNEP on E-waste. You wouldn’t scoff at less than a half a kilogram of gold if you knew that it takes 30 tons of earth to produce around 28g of gold. Oh, and the “open-pit” mining method that is popular not only facilitates erosion because huge areas are cleared of plant growth and dug out but they also use cyanide during the process which poisons water tables and kills local fauna.
7. Mining Might Not be the Only Way
Like I mentioned above, the primary method to source gold today is to dig ore (which is, basically, rock with flecks or particles of gold in it). It’s dissolved with sodium cyanide and then forged into ingots. Gold is obviously awesome, but this process is a little less than awesome. The toxic waste created by the method must be treated similar to radioactive waste, and the mining industry creates the most waste of any other large scale industry in the United States. A researcher by the name of Zhichang Liu at Northwestern University in Illinois might have found an alternative, using something as simple and innocuous as a type of starch. Not only is this method benign, it also extracts the gold to 97 percent purity in one step. Researchers at the VVT Technical Research Center of Finland might use mushrooms to extract gold from electronic waste. Well, not mushrooms exactly, but mycelium mats which the gold sticks to fungal and algae biomasses when filtered through. Surprisingly, this last technique works better than other chemical methods at extracting gold from E-waste!
8. One Ounce of Gold
One ounce of gold that has about the same dimensions of a large watch battery, but square, can be beaten out to a thin sheet large enough to cover a small bedroom or medium-sized bathroom. If that same ounce was extruded into a five micron thick wire (about a third of a human hair), it could span a whopping 80km. Even more surprising is that this isn’t just hypothetical; gold can physically be made into a wire that’s just a third of the thickness of a human hair and still preserve its structural integrity (stay together for all you cognitive slouches).
Our love affair with gold is bound to continue, not only because it’s shiny and glittery but because of the many amazing applications it has in medicine and industry. Do you know of any other interesting facts regarding gold? Let me know in the comments section below. Just make sure if you’re going to brag about how much of it you have to include your home address… for… um… research reasons.