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Fun on Friday: Yeah? So?

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Every morning, I get up and peruse the latest gold news. As part of that process, I just Google the word “gold.” I find a lot of useful articles that way. But I also have to filter through a lot of extraneous stuff – headlines like “Australian Bicycle Team Wins Gold Medal.” Anyway, I generally just scroll past that stuff. But as you can imagine, if it’s a big story, I end up seeing the headline over and over again. And sometimes, I click out of morbid curiosity.

That happened today. Over the last couple of days, I kept seeing headlines about how somebody has figured out how to melt gold at room temperature. At first, I thought, eh, I don’t really care. But after seeing the headline for the 894th time, I clicked. 

As it turns out, a scientist accidentally melted gold at room temperature as he was looking at it under an electron microscope. Ludvig de Knoop wasn’t actually trying to melt the gold. It was kind of an accident. He was just examining the metal at high magnification. As part of that process, he increased the electric field step-by-step to extremely high levels. As it turns out, a strange thing happened. The surface layers melted.

Knoop said he was “stunned” and that it “gives us new, foundational knowledge of gold.”

Engineering.com explains exactly what happened.

What happened was that the gold atoms became excited. Under the influence of the electric field, they suddenly lost their ordered structure and released almost all their connections to each other. Upon further experimentation, the researchers discovered that it was also possible to switch between a solid and a molten structure.”

There’s  even a video!

OK. I’m not a scientist. I wasn’t even very good at science in school. This is probably a prime example of why people shouldn’t do commentary on subjects they know nothing about. But I’m going to anyway. Here goes.

So what?

This doesn’t seem all that earthshaking to me. The science people call it “spectacular.” But is it? Really?

Follow me here. The surface of the gold melted at room temperature, right? Because the scientist dude ran a bunch of electricity through it, right? OK. What does electricity do? It heats things up, right? We’ve all picked up a cord that was drawing a lot of power and felt how hot it was.

Now, what does heat do? It melts things. So, why is this any shock? How is this “room temperature?” In effect, Knoop made the gold hot. And it melted. At room temperature.

OK. Big whoop.

Well, there’s more to the story, of course.

Thanks to theoretical calculations, the researchers are able to suggest why gold can melt at room temperature, which has to do with the formation of defects in the surface layers.”

Oooooh! So this is about math. Yup. That’s why I’m lost. I mentioned I wasn’t good at science. I was really bad at math. There’s a reason I have a journalism degree. The scientist dudes did some “theoretical calculations.” You know what that means? They made some stuff up. Like “imaginary numbers” in calculus. I never understood how an “imaginary number” can have any bearing on anything in real life. It’s…imaginary, right?

Come to think of it, this diatribe probably explains why I barely passed calculus.

So, here’s the good news in all this. Apparently, it has some practical applications, according to Eva Olsson, Professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers.

Because we can control and change the properties of the surface atom layers, it opens doors for different kinds of applications. For example, the technology could be used in different types of sensors, catalysts and transistors. There could also be opportunities for new concepts for contactless components.”

I’ve written a good bit about the growing use of gold in the technology sector, so this actually makes sense to me. But the science behind it all — not so much.

I may not understand melting gold at room temperature, but I do understand that diversifying your retirement portfolio with gold and silver can help protect you from market downturns.  It’s not difficult to add precious metals to your retirement mix. We can help you every step of the way. Just click the banner below for more information.

Fun on Friday is a weekly SchiffGold feature. We dig 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. Click here to read other posts in this series.

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