Swiss scientists make gold nugget ‘as light as air’

Swiss scientists make gold nugget ‘as light as air’

The 20-carats gold nugget floats on top of milk foam. (Photo: Gustav Nyström and Raffaele Mezzenga | ETH Zurich)

A team of Switzerland-based researchers have created a gold-foam material from protein fibres derived from milk that is light enough to float on water and, even at today’s depressed prices, is about 1,000 times cheaper than solid gold.

The 20-carats gold nugget can hardly be differentiated from conventional gold with the naked eye – the aerogel even has a metallic shine, according to ETH Zurich’s press release.

But unlike bullion, the new material is soft and malleable by hand, as it consists of 98 parts air and only two parts of solid material. “Of this solid material, more than four-fifths are gold and less than one-fifth is milk protein fibrils,” the team explained.

Among its potential applications, the researchers envision light watches and jewellery. They also think it would be an excellent catalyst in scientific experiments because it’s so porous, allowing chemicals to react with the gold particles all the way through the foam.

The new gold form, they say, could even be used in pressure sensors. While the foam doesn’t conduct electricity under typical room conditions, the gold particles touch when the foam is compressed, allowing electricity to move through it.

Dr. Raffaele Mezzenga and Dr. Gustav Nyström published their study last week in the journal Advanced Materials.

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