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Innovations that use gold

Posted by: on June 1, 2017

Element 79 on the periodic table, gold is one of the most widely used precious metals on the planet. Indeed, according to Live Science, the use of gold, namely for the development of jewelry, can be traced all the way back to circa 4000 B.C. And while we still tend to associate gold with the finer things in life – jewelry, art, prestigious awards such as Grammys and Oscars, money itself – gold is actually now a valuable metal used in a number of innovations. Let's take a closer look:

A quick history of gold
According to Live Science, several notable studies have indicated that gold is actually foreign to our planet. It instead likely arrived from space. For example, Discover Magazine mentions a 2011 study from Matthias Willbold, a researcher based at Britain's University of Bristol. Willbold proposed, in his research published by the journal Nature, that forecast models suggested much less gold should be on the planet's surface, in theory, than there actually is. Instead, gold should be found in the core of the earth due to a merging with iron. Given that this isn't the case – gold is found all over the earth's surface and in the mantle – Willbold proposed the yellow metal arrived via a large swarm of meteors that likely impacted the planet roughly 4 billion years ago.

The use of gold by humans, according to Live Science, can be traced all the way back to the Stone Age, where evidence suggests women wore gold as jewelry. From that point, all cultures throughout history have embraced the precious metal, from the Ancient Egyptians, to the Romans, the Ancient Chinese and beyond. As stated, gold has overwhelmingly been used for purposes of jewelry and decoration. Given its high monetary value, it has traditionally been embraced as a signifier of wealth and power. This is still the case today. Online resource Geology.com noted the jewelry industry utilizes a sizeable majority of the world's gold resources each year – some 78 percent, to be precise.

How is gold used for innovative purposes?
Despite its popularity as a luxury item, gold has proven to be invaluable in areas of innovation that have affected all of our lives, from technology to health care. Some of the most prominent areas where this is the case are as follows:

1. Electronics
Given its resistance to the effects of corrosion and its conductive abilities, gold has long been been used in the electronics industry, according to the World Gold Council. This utilization has continued to expand alongside the rapid growth in the technology sector, with the source reporting that the electronics industry now makes use of some 300 tonnes of gold annually. Examples of electronic devices that use gold, primarily for its ability to conduct electricity so well, include cell phones, calculators, watches, GPS systems and more, according to Geology.com. Gold is also utilized in the tools that power electric devices including connector wires and joints. Indeed, as noted by Business Insider, gold is often used to transmit data in electronic devices. Other metals that are also used for this purpose are silver and copper.

Alongside more conventional technologies that have been in use for some years now, gold is also being harnessed to develop emerging products. The World Gold Council offered the example of nanotechnology ink, made of gold. Nanotechnology, as a general practice, uses certain materials, like gold, at an incredibly small scale: think of a standard meter – a nanometer is literally one billionth of that size, the National Nanotechnology Initiative explained. Gold is used for the development of nanotechnology simply because of its dependability – it is a precious metal that conducts well and is averse to corrosion. That kind of reliability is essential when dealing with microscopic components. Examples of innovations that contain gold nanotechnology include, according to Sigma-Aldrich, computer chips, sensors and diagnostic tools in health care. The World Gold Council also noted certain kinds of flash drives and touch screens harness gold nanotechnologies.

2. Aerospace technology
Gold is widely used by the NASA in the design of its products, Geology.com explained. Again, the reasoning behind this is gold's sheer dependability – it is strong, resistant and conducts well. As the source pointed out, this is necessary for space crafts due to the curtailed ability to performance maintenance on the structures when they are in space. This is especially true for independent structures such as space satellites. Geology.com offered examples of just a few of the ways that gold is used by NASA. They include:

  • Gold-coated polyester film is implemented throughout most space vehicles to keep the temperature of the spacecraft ambient and to protect against damaging infrared radiation. 
  • Circuits found throughout spacecraft make use of gold.

The source also noted gold is used as a substitute for conventional lubricants, which are deployed to reduce friction between mechanical parts. Gold molecules are able to survive the harsh conditions of space – namely the abundance of radiation – which is something other lubricants cannot do.

Gold is used widely by NASA.Gold is used widely by NASA.

3. Health care
As detailed by the World Gold Council, gold is widely used in the health care industry, both for treatment and the development of technologies that can make diagnoses. The ubiquity of gold in the medical field can be chalked up to the fact that it's non-toxic to humans, Business Insider stated.

Under the umbrella of diagnostics, gold is currently harnessed, in the form of nanoparticles, as part of Rapid Diagnostic Tests. These tests can be used to screen for diseases such as malaria, and the technology has improved rates of testing in the developing world on account of its low cost. The source noted that other diagnostic tools, making use of gold nanoparticles, are still under development, although they show promise. Examples include more effective testing devices for diseases such as prostate cancer and HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, as noted by Geology.com, many electronic devices used in the health care sector contain gold, from physician's tools to life-support machines found in intensive care units. 

Gold is also present in certain medications. For example, as detailed by the World Gold Council, shortly after World War II, researchers discovered that it is possible to treat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis with the help of injectable compounds containing traces of gold. This discovery led to the introduction of a medication known as Auranofin, which some studies have shown could also be effective at treating chronic conditions such as leukemia. It should be stressed that while Auranofin is no longer used to treat RA, it's introduction points to the efficacy of gold in the development of medicine.

The World Gold Council further elaborated that a number of researchers are currently looking into ways to treat certain forms of cancer with the help of gold nanoparticles. For example, researchers have found a way to deliver targeted cancer treatment, directly to tumors, with the help of gold nanoparticles. This kind of treatment holds the promise of being more effective than conventional methods, such as chemotherapy, which can have adverse effects by destroying nearby healthy cells. 

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