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Fun on Friday: 2-Dimensional Gold?

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If you have ever handled gold leaf, you know it’s pretty thin. Paper-thin, in fact. But did you know we can go thinner?

In fact, scientists can take gold and silver into two dimensions. Sounds crazy, eh? Like flat earth or something. But the research team of Ulrich Starke and his former doctoral student Stiven Forti have successfully created a gold layer only a single atom thick. It’s two-dimensional gold, so to speak.

I have to wonder how they do this. An article in Phys Org says it’s “not easy.” This seems like an understatement. Maybe it’s a really heavy hammer. But it’s probably more sciencey than that. Actually, the article explains the process, but I don’t understand it, and you probably won’t either. But by all means, if you’re interested, click the link!

At any rate, two-dimensional gold is not going to make for a nice piece of jewelry. You can’t wear it on your wrist. Or maybe you can. But I don’t think anybody would notice. Nevertheless, even though this is not a new idea for that next anniversary gift, 2-D gold actually does have a function. In fact, when you formulate gold into a 1-atom-thick sheet, it changes its electrical properties.

Typically gold and silver are excellent conductors of electricity. But when formulated into an atom-thick sheet, they behave more like semiconductors.

You might be asking, so what? That was actually my first thought too. But Phys Org explains that it could open up new technologies.

Semiconductors are essential materials in microelectronics and other fields. For example, electronic switching elements such as diodes or transistors are based on it. Starke’s team can envisage some typical semiconductor applications for the new 2-D material.”

Silver has long been associated with its industrial uses. In fact, about half of the demand for the white metal comes from industry. Back in the day, it was photo processing. But with the demise of film, that market dried up. You remember film, right? That was back when you had to wait several days to see how your pictures came out only to find out they didn’t because you shot the whole roll with the lens on. And you still had to pay for the processing.  But I digress. Today, silver is primarily used in electronics and it’s an important component of the fast-growing solar energy industry.

But what about gold?

Last year, CNBC commentator Jim Leventhal recently said he had no interest in gold because it has “no uses as a metal.” Leventhal may be a smart man, but this was one of the dumber comments I ran across last year. I mean, the dude was probably wearing gold when he made that comment. And the yellow metal is also is increasingly being used in technological applications, particularly in the medical and electronics sectors.

Goes to show that just because somebody is paid to give their opinion doesn’t mean their opinion is worth anything.

Anyway, I think it’s pretty cool to see the way gold is being used to make life better. People have been using it for centuries to beautify the world and to protect their wealth. Now it’s could be the key to restoring sight. No joke. A team of Chinese researchers partially restored the sight of blind mice by replacing their deteriorated photoreceptors – sensory structures inside the eye that respond to light – with nano-wires made of gold and titanium.

And yet there are people who say gold is useless. You know what’s really useless? Those people’s opinions.

Fun on Friday is a weekly SchiffGold feature by Mike Maharrey. He digs up some of the off-the-wall and off-beat stories relating to precious metals and share them with you – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Any opinions expressed are Mike’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Peter Schiff. Click here to read other posts in this series.

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Image by: Stiven Forti

 


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About The Author

Michael Maharrey is the managing editor of the SchiffGold blog, and the host of the Friday Gold Wrap Podcast and It's Your Dime interview series.
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