Scientists left stunned after melting gold at room temperature

20 Nov 201816.12k Views

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Scientists were dumbfounded after finding it is possible to melt gold at room temperature using an electron microscope.

For thousands of years, famous scientists and alchemists attempted to find a way to turn common metals into gold. While this proved to be a thankless pursuit, a new discovery announced by a team from Chalmers University in Sweden has managed to find an altogether different and mysterious property of gold itself.

After placing a small piece of gold in an electron microscope, researcher Ludvig de Knoop ramped up the magnification to the maximum and increased the electric field step by step to see what would happen to the gold’s atoms. To his amazement, he noticed that the surface layers of gold had actually melted at room temperature.

“I was really stunned by the discovery. This is an extraordinary phenomenon, and it gives us new, foundational knowledge of gold,” De Knoop said.

Publishing his findings in Physical Review Materials along with his university colleagues and Finnish theoretician Mikael Juhani Kuisma, De Knoop explained that the melting occurred because the 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.

When they examined it further, they discovered it was also possible to switch between a solid and molten structure. The researchers have stressed this discovery to not just be spectacular, but also groundbreaking scientifically.

Using theoretical calculations, the researchers believe it is possible to melt gold at room temperature because the surface melting can be seen as a so-called low-dimensional phase transition.

Eva Olsson, professor of the Department of Physics at Chalmers University, said: “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.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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