A team of Chinese researchers have turned cheap copper into a new material “almost identical” to gold. The discovery will significantly reduce the use of rare, expensive metals in factories.
Professor Sun Jian and colleagues at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Liaoning, shot a copper target with a jet of hot, electrically charged argon gas.
The fast-moving ionised particles blasted copper atoms off the target. The atoms cooled down and condensed on the surface of a collecting device, producing a thin layer of sand. Each grain of the sand had a diameter of only a few nanometres, or a thousandth of the size of a bacterium. Chinese scientists go in search of the soul with world’s most powerful brain scanner
The researchers put the material in a reaction chamber and used it as a catalyst to turn coal to alcohol, a sophisticated and difficult chemical process that only precious metals can handle efficiently.“The copper nano particles achieved catalytic performance extremely similar to that of gold or silver,” Sun and collaborators said in a statement posted on the academy’s website on Saturday.
“The results … proved that after processing, metal copper can transform from ‘chicken’ to ‘phoenix’,” claimed Sun, who was not immediately available for comment. Copper has a similar weight and look to gold. For centuries it has attracted alchemists who saw it as a gateway to instant riches.
The new material created by Sun’s lab cannot be used to make fake gold pennies. Its density remains the same as ordinary copper. But the process could prove lucrative and provide a significant boost for Chinese industries, according to the researchers.
Precious metals remain central to modern economies. The components of electronic devices, for instance, contain a large amount of gold, silver and platinum.