Chinese scientists may have finally performed a form of “alchemy” by turning copper into a new material that is “almost identical” to gold, new research has revealed.
The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances on Saturday, was conducted by a team of Chinese researchers at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Dalian, Liaoning Province, China.
According to the research team, their findings will significantly help reduce the use of rare, expensive metals in factories, South China Morning Post reports.
DICP professor Sun Jian and his colleagues were reportedly able to replicate some gold-like properties by shooting a jet of hot, electrically charged argon gas at a copper target.
The process reportedly allowed fast-moving ionized particles to blast copper atoms off the target. When the atoms cooled down and condensed on the surface of a collecting device, a thin layer of sand was produced.
Each grain of the produced sand was so tiny it had a diameter of only a few nanometres which is equivalent to a thousandth of the size of a bacterium.
The resulting sand material was then placed in a reaction chamber and used it as a catalyst to turn coal to alcohol.
Such chemical process is deemed to be so sophisticated and difficult that only precious metals can handle such tasks efficiently.
“The copper nanoparticles achieved catalytic performance extremely similar to that of gold or silver,” a statement posted by Sun on the academy’s website noted on Saturday.
“The results … proved that after processing, metal copper can transform from ‘chicken’ to ‘phoenix’,” Sun wrote.
While the new material is not intended to make gold pennies as its density remains the same as ordinary copper, it can be used as an alternative to gold in the production of electronic devices.
Researchers say that the process can provide a significant boost for Chinese industries which use precious metals such as gold in many modern industries.
Electronic devices such as phones and computers contain metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. It is estimated that a gram of gold ore can be found inside about 40 smartphones.
Ordinary copper, which has fewer electrons around its nucleus, cannot be used in industrial applications as well as gold.
Copper also reacts more easily when combining with other chemicals as its electrons are also relatively more unstable than those in gold.
Research teams have also claimed that its method has made the copper’s electrons more dense and stable. It also allowed them to inject a large amount of energy into copper atoms.
The researchers further claimed that the resulting material can resist high temperatures, oxidation, and erosion.