Scientists make ‘goldene,’ an ultra-thin version of gold

Researchers Lars Hultman and Shun Kashiwaya
Olov Planthaber/Linköping University

It’s not fool’s gold — scientists really have created a breakthrough new material using gold, the fine metal we associate with traditional wedding bands and gleaming Oscar statuettes.

Following the success of “graphene,” a material made of a single layer of graphite atoms, researchers at the Materials Design Division at Linköping University in Sweden tested out the process on gold.

According to a press release, the team worked on manipulating gold, a metal, into a thin layer but the material tended to clump up. After a lot of trial and error, they stumbled somewhat serendipitously onto a solution — a technique that already existed.

The technique, called Murakami’s reagent, had been used in Japanese forging art for over a hundred years. While it wasn’t an immediate success — the trial and error continued — this method ultimately unlocked the solution and enabled the team to create the imperceptibly thin gold material.

Researchers from LiU creating sheets of 1-atom-thick gold
Olov Planthaber | Linköping University

“Goldene” is gold that is one-atom thick. For context, a standard sheet of paper is roughly 500,000 atoms thick. Why does this matter? Why did scientists work for years to create the thinnest possible form of gold?

Well, our planet doesn’t have infinite gold to mine. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that 244,000 tons of gold has been discovered on Earth. Of that, 170,000 to 190,000 tons have already been mined.

Aside from gold’s primary use in jewelry and ornamental objects, it’s used across medicine, dentistry and various facets of technology. There’s even gold in your smartphone. Goldene would not only reduce the amount of gold used in each of these applications, but it could also allow us to use the material in brand-new ways, including carbon dioxide conversion, hydrogen-generating catalysis, hydrogen production, water purification and communication.

What’s next for the team of researchers who brought us goldene? They plan to investigate using the same method on other noble metals and identifying additional uses.

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