Why gold? The Properties we use every day
Gold wires the internet and helps NASA keep astronauts safe in space. Its versatility and unique properties make the metal indispensible in engineering and electronics, and its application as a key nanomaterial is beginning to offer new solutions to a range of global health and environmental challenges.
Take a stroll through our interactive town to understand where gold is used to bring performance and efficiency improvements to modern life and where it will be used increasingly in the future. Please click on the vehicles and buildings to discover more.
Gold's ability to conduct electricity makes it an indispensible component in electronics. Completely resistant to corrosion, it is the undisputed material of choice to guarantee reliability in a broad range of high-performance and safety-critical applications. Indeed, in recent years the electronics sector alone has accounted for more than 300 tonnes of global annual demand, underlining its value in these applications.
Exceptionally malleable and ductile, one ounce of gold can be beaten into a translucent sheet 0.000018 cm thick and covering 9 square metres; or pulled into a wire 80 km (50 miles) long. At 5 microns in diameter, the wire would be 20 times thinner than a human hair.
Gold's catalytic properties - it accelerates the rate of chemical reactions without being consumed - means that it is becoming an important component in many industrial processes. It is a proven material for use in catalytic converters, which reduce the toxicity of exhaust fumes, and plays a role in the production of a range of chemicals we all use on a day to day basis. New gold catalysts that are currently being developed could reduce the impact of airborne and water-borne pollution. And the importance of gold in fuel cells puts the metal at the heart of technologies for a cleaner energy future.
These unique qualities mean there are many industrial uses of gold, including for engineers in the aerospace and construction industries. NASA protects its astronauts and equipment from radiation and heat with a layer of gold, while a film of the metal coats all 14,000 windows of the Royal Bank Plaza building in Toronto, Canada.
Because it does not corrode, gold has been used in dentistry for centuries, and gold alloys are still used today. The metal's biocompatibility - it rarely has any negative effects when placed in contact with the human body and resists infection - makes it a natural choice for other sensitive implants, such as those in the inner ear or eyelids.
However, the medical applications of gold are wider still. Gold-based drugs have been developed and used to treat illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis. Research is currently ongoing into the role that gold can play in cancer treatment. As understanding of nanotechnology reveals gold's unique qualities at the nano-scale, further biomedical uses are being found for the metal. It has been deployed in a range of cutting-edge techniques for diagnosing diseases.