A team of researchers, including from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, has made a scientific breakthrough making the surface of gold melt at room temperature under a transmission electron microscope.
While studying the atoms of gold, Ludvig de Knoop from Chalmers’ Department of Physics, placed a small piece of the metal in an electron microscope. Observing it at the highest level of magnification and increasing the electric field step-by-step to extremely high levels, he was fascinated to see the surface layers of gold actually melting.
“I was really stunned by the discovery. This is an extraordinary phenomenon, and it gives us new, foundational knowledge of gold,” he said.
After conducting more experiments and analysis, the research team concluded that the high electric fields were the ones responsible for changing the gold atoms’ behavior and melting the metal.
“The discovery of how gold atoms can lose their structure in this way is not just spectacular, but also groundbreaking scientifically,” said the study, published in the Physical Review Materials journal.
It can help develop new types of transistors and sensors, according to co-author of the study Eva Olsson from Chalmers.
“Because we can control and change the properties of the surface atom layers, it opens doors to different kinds of applications,” she said.
The new method of melting gold will never work on large blocks, as the level of voltage needed for something like that “is not available,” de Knoop told Digital Trends. He explained that for now melting at room temperature can only be done with gold pieces that are not larger than a couple nanometers, which is basically one billionth of a meter.
Gold is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. It’s known for having a very high melting temperature of 1,943 degrees Fahrenheit (1,062 degrees Celsius) which means that the melting of the metal could only be achieved with flames that reach this temperature.