Friday, May 19, 2017

Element of the Month: Gold

May's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 196.966 amu
Melting Point: 1064.18 °C
Boiling Point: 2970 °C

It has been seven years since Gold’s companion element Silver had its month in the limelight, and – dang, seven years! That’s a lot of blogging about elements. But I digress.

Much that is true about Silver is also true of Gold:
  • It's shiny!
  • Is used as an arbitrary repository of human wealth because it’s relatively scarce, and shiny!
  • It’s popular in the jewelry trade.
  • Is in the “Group 11” column of the periodic table.
  • Because it’s been known since antiquity, it has a prosaic name (it ain’t “Goldium”) and a wacky symbol (Au) based on the Latin Aurum.
  • Its price tends to balloon in uncertain times, when people think that society is going to collapse and that there will be a brisk trade in shiny stuff in the smoking ruins.
There are, of course, some differences. It is, for instance, a rare example of an elemental metal that is not silver in color. It is, in fact, gold in color. (Another exception is Copper, which is copper-colored.) It also enjoys a higher monetary value than Silver – Gold is worth 16 times as much as Silver by tradition, but generally much more than that these days. At the moment I’m writing this, Gold is worth a little more than 74 times as much as silver. That’s by weight, of course.

The Centerfold!

“Well,” you’re thinking, “the value differential must be a function of supply and demand, what with Silver being so much more common.” And there’s a little something to this; the amount of Silver in the Earth’s crust is something like 2½ to 3 times the amount of Gold. It’s also easier to find. There are plenty of ginormous scars on the planet being made even as we speak by humans looking for Gold, whereas Silver is usually just a nifty by-product that miners are happy to encounter while they are looking for something else, probably Lead, Copper, or Zinc. Even so the yearly yield of Silver is 8 or 9 times that of Gold.

So, if there’s 8 or 9 times as much Silver produced, but Gold is worth 74 times as much, it must be something on the demand side. Gold must be a lot more useful! But no, only about 10% of Gold production goes into practical applications, whereas about half of Silver production does. So, the long and short of it is, Gold is more valuable because it’s preferred for jewelry and hoarding purposes. Which gets back to the original point, which is that people like it because it’s shiny.

Gold has been on my mind lately because I am the proud owner of two new crowned molars. I am happy to flash my stylish gold teeth for all comers – they are, indeed, kinda shiny – but since they are pretty far back in the mouth, it requires some effort by me and the viewer alike to get the full effect. The Gold seems to be doing a bang-up job of letting me grind up crunchy foods into digestible mash again, after a tedious 3-week regimen of soft food.  ("How long will they last?" asked a young friend.  Well, Gold is one of the less reactive metals, so is famously durable.  "Longer than I will," I told her.)

Finally, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the importance of Gold in gilding, which is the application of a tiny thin layer of gold to frames, statues, domes, and other such stuff for the purpose of making it shiny. I’d be remiss in this, because Niece #1 is an apprentice gilder. I daresay she’s one of the leading gilders of her generation, unless there are a lot more young gilders running around than I think there are.

Klimt was all about the gilding.


UnwiseOwl said...

How on earth did Niece #1 get into gilding?

mhwitt said...

Is gold sometimes used in electrical applications? Circuits or wires? I believe it is an excellent conductor of electricity. And highly malleable.

These are "facts" (notions?) that I have carried around since childhood, so perhaps not true or at least not current.

Michael5000 said...

U.O. -- She gets up to all kinds of hijinx.

mhw -- It is a great conductor! And highly malleable! But way too expensive for use in any conventional circuits or wires. Hell, folks will happily tear the copper wire out of an unattended building for the value of the metal. With gold wiring, they wouldn't wait for you to move out.