Have you ever wondered why gold is so precious? What is it about this metal that we can use it for so many things including the base of many national economic systems?We think of gold as being rare, but it is quite abundant in the universe. Ten-billion tons of gold exist in Earth’s oceans. Scientists believe that near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros has more gold in it than has ever been mined on Earth. Gold is virtually indestructible. It is almost always recycled, and 85% of the gold ever found is still being used today.
The atomic structure of gold gives it an incredible range of applications. Because of its electron configuration, gold is not very active chemically. Gold is popular in jewelry not only because of its beauty but also because it is chemically inert and therefore does not tarnish. That same electron configuration makes it extremely malleable (able to be pounded into a sheet) and extremely ductile (able to be drawn out into a wire). A one-ounce piece of gold can be beaten into a sheet five-millionths of an inch thick or drawn out into a wire 50 miles long and 5 micrometers thick–one-tenth the diameter of a human hair. Gold wires are also very useful in electronics because gold is an excellent conductor of electricity. In computers and other electronics, gold plating of connectors gives low resistance electrical contacts that don’t corrode.
For 70 years the standard treatment for rheumatoid arthritis has been injections of a liquid suspension of gold salts which act as an anti-inflammatory, but scientists still don’t know why that works. A method of refining gold requires the use of highly poisonous cyanide. However, researchers have discovered microorganisms that eat trace amounts of gold and deposit them as larger nuggets. This can lead to gold processing that will be far less damaging to the environment than the old cyanide method.
As chemists look at the electron structure of gold, they see that it has been designed to do some amazing things. The design of the atom gives us some incredible materials that are of great value for many things. That is why gold is so precious. God has designed some amazing things for us, and gold is one that is high on the list.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018