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Crystals get the Midas Touch

Gold! Never has a substance inspired so many things (books, songs, films and even sweets), and it’s easy to see why. Its very existence is the result of some heavy-duty cosmic fireworks which explains why it’s so rare. Combine that with its gleam and beautiful colour, and you have an A-list precious metal that has taken centre stage in jewellery making for hundreds of years.

 

It’s not all about the looks

There’s far more to gold than the glitter though. It’s is an incredibly useful metal and it’s all down to its other (and we think most important) quality – its elemental chill. What do we mean by that? Well, your typical gold atom has an equal number of positive and negative charges, so it’s not bothered about reacting with anything. It’s balanced and doesn’t need anything else to make it feel complete. This balance is also what’s behind its latest trick – its ability to transform the structure of a crystal. 21st – century alchemy!!

Bringing order to chaos and making magic

Nature loves order. Stuff like geese flying in a V shape or flower petals arranging themselves neatly in a circle – neat patterns are everything and metals are no exception. They form super-organised structures as well, which determine how they behave. But what if we disturbed a metal’s zen-like status, say with a crystal – what would happen? Scientists have been studying this and they’ve learned that layering the finest sheet of gold onto a crystal leads to metal magic! The gold nano leaf disrupts the crystal’s own orderliness just enough to create movement that then turns into electricity (in the same way as a fitness tracker records the steps you take) and heat into electrical energy.

But why should we care?

Scientists might be going gaga, but what will it mean for us? If they can take this crystal-gold atomic disco and apply it properly, it could open up all kinds of exciting new possibilities. It will allow us to make smaller, more efficient and powerful sensors which are basically in almost all electrical devices. Far more importantly, this could be a massive leap in sustainable energy. Smaller gadgets mean fewer materials and less energy in the production process so when you consider just how much tech we use, that’s a major win for the planet! And if you’re worried about us using all the gold up in mobile phones, don’t be. It looks like the process would work with any noble (AKA similarly chilled) metal. Hurray!

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