Gold

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Chemical elements; Mineralogy

79 platinumgoldmercury
Ag

Au

Rg
Periodic table (standard)">Periodic Table - Extended Periodic Table
General
Name, Symbol, Number gold, Au, 79
Chemical series metal">transition metals
Group, Period, Block 11, 6, d
Appearance metallic yellow
Standard atomic weight 196.966569 (4)  g·mol−1
Electron configuration [Xe] 4f14 5d10 6s1
Electrons per shell 2, 8, 18, 32, 18, 1
Physical properties
Phase solid
Density (near r.t.) 19.3  g·cm−3
Liquid density at m.p. 17.31  g·cm−3
Melting point 1337.33  K
(1064.18 ° C, 1947.52 ° F)
Boiling point 3129  K
(2856 ° C, 5173 ° F)
Heat of fusion 12.55   kJ·mol−1
Heat of vaporization 324   kJ·mol−1
Specific heat capacity (25 °C) 25.418  J·mol−1·K−1
Vapor pressure
P(Pa) 1 10 100 1 k 10 k 100 k
at T(K) 1646 1814 2021 2281 2620 3078
Atomic properties
Crystal structure cubic face centered
Oxidation states −1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
( amphoteric oxide)
Electronegativity 2.54 (Pauling scale)
Ionization energies 1st: 890.1 kJ/mol
2nd: 1980 kJ/mol
Atomic radius 135   pm
Atomic radius (calc.) 174  pm
Covalent radius 144  pm
Van der Waals radius 166 pm
Miscellaneous
Magnetic ordering diamagnetic
Electrical resistivity (20 °C) 22.14 n Ω·m
Thermal conductivity (300 K) 318  W·m−1·K−1
Thermal expansion (25 °C) 14.2  µm·m−1·K−1
Speed of sound (thin rod) ( r.t.) (hard-drawn)
2030   m·s−1
Young's modulus 78  GPa
Tensile Strain 0.00157  
Shear modulus 27  GPa
Bulk modulus 220  GPa
Poisson ratio 0.44
mineral hardness">Mohs hardness 2.5
Vickers hardness 216  MPa
Brinell hardness  ? 2450  MPa
CAS registry number 7440-57-5
Selected isotopes
Main article: Isotopes of gold
iso NA half-life DM DE ( MeV) DP
195Au syn 186.10 d ε 0.227 195Pt
196Au syn 6.183 d ε 1.506 196Pt
β- 0.686 196Hg
197Au 100% 197Au is stable with 118 neutrons
198Au syn 2.69517 d β- 1.372 198Hg
199Au syn 3.169 d β- 0.453 199Hg
References

Gold (pronounced /ˈɡoʊld/) is a chemical element with the symbol Au (from the Latin aurum, meaning shining dawn) and atomic number 79. It is a highly sought-after precious metal which, for many centuries, has been used as money, a store of value and in jewelry. The metal occurs as nuggets or grains in rocks, underground "veins" and in alluvial deposits. It is one of the coinage metals. Gold is dense, soft, shiny and the most malleable and ductile of the known metals. Pure gold has a bright yellow colour traditionally considered attractive.

Gold formed the basis for the gold standard used before the fiat currency monetary system was employed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). It is specifically against IMF regulations to base any currency against gold for all IMF member states. The ISO currency code of gold bullion is XAU.

Modern industrial uses include dentistry and electronics, where gold has traditionally found use because of its good resistance to oxidative corrosion.

Chemically, gold is a trivalent and univalent transition metal. Gold does not react with most chemicals, but is attacked by chlorine, fluorine, aqua regia and cyanide. Gold dissolves in mercury, forming amalgam alloys, but does not react with it. Gold is insoluble in acid">nitric acid, which will dissolve silver and base metals, and this is the basis of the gold refining technique known as "inquartation and parting". Nitric acid has long been used to confirm the presence of gold in items, and this is the origin of the colloquial term "acid test," referring to a gold standard test for genuine value.

Characteristics

Gold is the most malleable and ductile metal; a single gram can be beaten into a sheet of one square meter, or an ounce into 300 square feet. Gold leaf can be beaten thin enough to become translucent. The transmitted light appears greenish blue, because gold strongly reflects yellow and red.

Gold readily forms alloys with many other metals. These alloys can be produced to increase the hardness or to create exotic colors (see below). Gold is a good conductor of heat and electricity, and is not affected by air and most reagents. Heat, moisture, oxygen, and most corrosive agents have very little chemical effect on gold, making it well-suited for use in coins and jewelry; conversely, halogens will chemically alter gold, and aqua regia dissolves it via formation of the chloraurate ion.

Common oxidation states of gold include +1 (gold(I) or aurous compounds) and +3 (gold(III) or auric compounds). Gold ions in solution are readily reduced and precipitated out as gold metal by adding any other metal as the reducing agent. The added metal is oxidized and dissolves allowing the gold to be displaced from solution and be recovered as a solid precipitate.

Recent research undertaken by Sir Frank Reith of the Australian National University shows that microbes play an important role in forming gold deposits, transporting and precipitating gold to form grains and nuggets that collect in alluvial deposits.

High quality pure metallic gold is tasteless, in keeping with its resistance to corrosion (it is metal ions which confer taste to metals).

In addition, gold is very dense, a cubic meter weighing 19300 kg. By comparison, the density of lead is 11340 kg/m³, and the densest element, iridium, is 22650 kg/m³.

Colour of gold

The usual gray colour of metals depends on their "electron sea" that is capable of absorbing and re-emitting photons over a wide range of frequencies. Gold behaves differently, depending on subtle relativistic effects that affect the orbitals around gold atoms.

Applications

As the metal

Medium of monetary exchange

In various countries, gold is used as a standard for monetary exchange, in coinage and in jewelry. Pure gold is too soft for ordinary use and is typically hardened by alloying with copper or other base metals. The gold content of gold alloys is measured in carats (k), pure gold being designated as 24k.

Gold coins intended for circulation from 1526 into the 1930s were typically a standard 22k alloy called crown gold, for hardness. Modern collector/investment bullion coins (which do not require good mechanical wear properties) are typically 24k, although the American Gold Eagle and British gold sovereign continue to be made at 22k, on historical tradition. The Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin contains the highest purity gold of any popular bullion coin, at 99.999% (.99999 fine). Several other 99.99% pure gold coins are currently available, including Australia's Gold Kangaroos (first appearing in 1986 as the Australian Gold Nugget, with the kangaroo theme appearing in 1989), the several coins of the Australian Lunar Calendar series, and the Austrian Philharmonic. In 2006, the U.S. Mint began production of the American Buffalo gold bullion coin also at 99.99% purity.

Today, gold has fallen out of use in coins made for general circulation.

Jewelry

Because of the softness of pure (24k) gold, it is usually alloyed with base metals for use in jewelry, altering its hardness and ductility, melting point, colour and other properties. Alloys with lower "k", typically 22k, 18k, 14k or 10k, contain higher percentages of copper, silver or other base metals in the alloy. Copper is the most commonly used base metal, yielding a redder metal. Eighteen carat gold containing 25% copper is found in antique and Russian jewelry and has a distinct, though not dominant, copper cast, creating rose gold. Fourteen carat gold-copper alloy is nearly identical in colour to certain bronze alloys, and both may be used to produce police and other badges. Blue gold can be made by alloying with iron and purple gold can be made by alloying with aluminium, although rarely done except in specialized jewelry. Blue gold is more brittle and therefore more difficult to work with when making jewelry. Fourteen and eighteen carat gold alloys with silver alone appear greenish-yellow and are referred to as green gold. White gold alloys can be made with palladium or nickel. White 18 carat gold containing 17.3% nickel, 5.5% zinc and 2.2% copper is silver in appearance. Nickel is toxic, however, and its release from nickel white gold is controlled by legislation in Europe. Alternative white gold alloys are available based on palladium, silver and other white metals (World Gold Council), but the palladium alloys are more expensive than those using nickel. High-carat white gold alloys are far more resistant to corrosion than are either pure silver or sterling silver. The Japanese craft of Mokume-gane exploits the colour contrasts between laminated colored gold alloys to produce decorative wood-grain effects.

The 220 kg Gold brick displayed in Chinkuashi Gold Museum, Taiwan.
The 220 kg Gold brick displayed in Chinkuashi Gold Museum, Taiwan.

Other

  • In medieval times, gold was often seen as beneficial for the health, in the belief that something that rare and beautiful could not be anything but healthy. Even some modern esotericists and forms of alternative medicine assign metallic gold a healing power. Some gold salts do have anti-inflammatory properties and are used as pharmaceuticals in the treatment of arthritis and other similar conditions. However, only salts and radioisotopes of gold are of pharmacological value, as elemental (metallic) gold is inert to all chemicals it encounters inside the body.
  • Gold leaf, flake or dust is used on and in some gourmet foodstuffs, notably sweets and drinks as decorative ingredient. Gold flake was used by the nobility in Medieval Europe as a decoration in foodstuffs and drinks, in the form of leafs, flakes or dust, either to demonstrate the host's wealth or in the belief that something that valuable and rare must be beneficial for one's health.
  • Gold solder is used for joining the components of gold jewelry by high-temperature hard soldering or brazing. If the work is to be of hallmarking quality, gold solder must match the carat weight of the work, and alloy formulas are manufactured in most industry-standard carat weights to colour match yellow and white gold. Gold solder is usually made in at least three melting-point ranges referred to as Easy, Medium and Hard. By using the hard, high-melting point solder first, followed by solders with progressively lower melting points, goldsmiths can assemble complex items with several separate soldered joints.
  • Gold can be used in food and has the E Number 175. Goldwasser (German: "Goldwater") is a traditional herbal liqueur produced in Gdańsk, Poland and Schwabach, Germany and contains flakes of gold leaf. There are also some expensive (~$1000) cocktails which contain flakes of gold leaf. However, since metallic gold is inert to all body chemistry, it adds no taste nor has it any other nutritional effect and leaves the body unaltered.
  • Dentistry. Gold alloys are used in restorative dentistry, especially in tooth restorations, such as crowns and permanent bridges. The gold alloys' slight malleability facilitates the creation of a superior molar mating surface with other teeth and produces results that are generally more satisfactory than those produced by the creation of porcelain crowns. The use of gold crowns in more prominent teeth such as incisors is favored in some cultures and discouraged in others.
  • Gold can be made into thread and used in embroidery.
  • Gold is ductile and malleable, meaning it can be drawn into very thin wire and can be beaten into very thin sheets known as gold leaf.
  • Gold produces a deep, intense red colour when used as a coloring agent in cranberry glass.
  • In photography, Gold toners are used to shift the colour of silver bromide black and white prints towards brown or blue tones, or to increase their stability. Used on sepia-toned prints, gold toners produce red tones. Kodak publish formulas for several types of gold toners, which use gold as the chloride (Kodak, 2006).
  • Electronics. The concentration of free electrons in gold metal is 5.90×1022 cm-3. Gold is highly conductive to electricity, and has been used for electrical wiring in some high energy applications (silver is even more conductive per volume, but gold has the advantage of corrosion resistance). For example, gold electrical wires were used during some of the Manhattan Project's atomic experiments, but large high current silver wires were used in the calutron isotope separator magnets in the project.
    • Though gold is attacked by free chlorine, its good conductivity and general resistance to oxidation and corrosion in other environments (including resistance to non-chlorinated acids) has led to its widespread industrial use in the electronic era as a thin layer coating electrical connectors of all kinds, thereby ensuring good connection. For example, gold is used in the connectors of the more expensive electronics cables, such as audio, video and USB cables. The benefit of using gold over other connector metals such as tin in these applications, is highly debated. Gold connectors are often criticized by audio-visual experts as unnecessary for most consumers and seen as simply a marketing ploy. However, the use of gold in other applications in electronic sliding contacts in highly humid or corrosive atmospheres, and in use for contacts with a very high failure cost (certain computers, communications equipment, spacecraft, jet aircraft engines) remains very common, and is unlikely to be replaced in the near future by any other metal.
    • Besides sliding electrical contacts, gold is also used in electrical contacts because of its resistance to corrosion, electrical conductivity, ductility and lack of toxicity. Switch contacts are generally subjected to more intense corrosion stress than are sliding contacts.
  • Colloidal gold (Colloidal sols of gold nanoparticles) in water are intensely red-colored, and can be made with tightly-controlled particle sizes up to a few tens of nm across by reduction of gold chloride with citrate or ascorbate ions. Colloidal gold is used in research applications in medicine, biology and materials science. The technique of immunogold labeling exploits the ability of the gold particles to adsorb protein molecules onto their surfaces. Colloidal gold particles coated with specific antibodies can be used as probes for the presence and position of antigens on the surfaces of cells (Faulk and Taylor 1979). In ultrathin sections of tissues viewed by electron microscopy, the immunogold labels appear as extremely dense round spots at the position of the antigen (Roth et al. 1980). Colloidal gold is also the form of gold used as gold paint on ceramics prior to firing.
  • Gold, or alloys of gold and palladium, are applied as conductive coating to biological specimens and other non-conducting materials such as plastics and glass to be viewed in a scanning electron microscope. The coating, which is usually applied by sputtering with an argon plasma, has a triple role in this application. Gold's very high electrical conductivity drains electrical charge to earth, and its very high density provides stopping power for electrons in the SEM's electron beam, helping to limit the depth to which the electron beam penetrates the specimen. This improves definition of the position and topography of the specimen surface and increases the spatial resolution of the image. Gold also produces a high output of secondary electrons when irradiated by an electron beam, and these low-energy electrons are the most commonly-used signal source used in the scanning electron microscope.
  • Many competitions, and honours, such as the Olympics and the Nobel Prize, award a gold medal to the winner.
  • As gold is a good reflector of electromagnetic radiation such as infrared and visible light as well as radio waves, it is used for the protective coatings on many artificial satellites, in infrared protective faceplates in thermal protection suits and astronauts' helmets and in electronic warfare planes like the EA-6B Prowler.
  • Gold is used as the reflective layer on some high-end CDs.
  • The isotope gold-198, ( half-life: 2.7 days) is used in some cancer treatments and for treating other diseases.
  • Automobiles may use gold for heat insulation. McLaren F1 uses gold foil in the engine compartment.

As gold chemical compounds

Gold is attacked by and dissolves in alkaline solutions of potassium or sodium cyanide, and gold cyanide is the electrolyte used in commercial electroplating of gold onto base metals and electroforming. Gold chloride ( chloroauric acid) solutions are used to make colloidal gold by reduction with citrate or ascorbate ions. Gold chloride and gold oxide are used to make highly-valued cranberry or red-colored glass, which, like colloidal gold sols, contains evenly-sized spherical gold nanoparticles.

History

Funerary mask of Tutankhamun
Funerary mask of Tutankhamun

Gold has been known and highly-valued since prehistoric times. It may have been the first metal used by humans and was valued for ornamentation and rituals. Egyptian hieroglyphs from as early as 2600 BC describe gold, which king Tushratta of the Mitanni claimed was "more plentiful than dirt" in Egypt. Egypt and Nubia had the resources to make them major gold-producing areas for much of history. Large mines also occurred across the Red Sea in what is now Saudi Arabia. Gold is also mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, starting with Genesis 2:11 (at Havilah) and is included with the gifts of the magi in the first chapters of Matthew New Testament. The Book of Revelation 21:21 describes the city of New Jerusalem as having streets "made of pure gold, clear as crystal". The south-east corner of the Black Sea was famed for its gold. Exploitation is said to date from the time of Midas, and this gold was important in the establishment of what is probably the world's earliest coinage in Lydia between 643 and 630 BC.

The Romans developed new methods for extracting gold on a large scale using hydraulic mining methods, especially in Spain from 25 BC onwards and in Roumania from 150 AD onwards. One of their largest mines was at Las Medulas in Galicia, where seven long aqueducts enabled them to sluice most of a large alluvial deposit. The mines at Verespatak in Transylvania were also very large, and till very recently, still mined by opencast methods. They also exploited smaller deposits in Wales, such as placer and hard-rock deposits at Dolaucothi. The various methods they used are well described by Pliny the Elder in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia written towards the end of the first century AD.

The Mali Empire in Africa was famed throughout the old world for its large amounts of gold. Mansa Musa, ruler of the empire (1312–1337) became famous throughout the old world for his great hajj to Mecca in 1324. When he passed through Cairo in July of 1324, he was reportedly accompanied by a camel train that included thousands of people and nearly a hundred camels. He gave away so much gold that it took over a decade for the economy across North Africa to recover, due to the rapid inflation that it initiated. A contemporary Arab historian remarked;

Gold was at a high price in Egypt until they came in that year. The mithqal did not go below 25 dirhams and was generally above, but from that time its value fell and it cheapened in price and has remained cheap till now. The mithqal does not exceed 22 dirhams or less. This has been the state of affairs for about twelve years until this day by reason of the large amount of gold which they brought into Egypt and spent there [...]

Chihab Al-Umari

The European exploration of the Americas was fueled in no small part by reports of the gold ornaments displayed in great profusion by Native American peoples, especially in Central America, Peru, and Colombia.

Although the price of some platinum group metals can be much higher, gold has long been considered the most desirable of precious metals, and its value has been used as the standard for many currencies (known as the gold standard) in history. Gold has been used as a symbol for purity, value, royalty, and particularly roles that combine these properties. Gold as a sign of wealth and prestige was made fun of by Thomas More in his treatise Utopia. On that imaginary island, gold is so abundant that it is used to make chains for slaves, tableware and lavatory-seats. When ambassadors from other countries arrive, dressed in ostentatious gold jewels and badges, the Utopians mistake them for menial servants, paying homage instead to the most modestly-dressed of their party.

There is an age-old tradition of biting gold in order to test its authenticity. Although this is certainly not a professional way of examining gold, the bite test should score the gold because gold is considered a soft metal according to the Mohs' scale of mineral hardness. The purer the gold the easier it should be to mark it. Painted lead can cheat this test because lead is softer than gold (and may invite a small risk of lead poisoning if sufficient lead is absorbed by the biting).

This 156 ounce (4,42 kg) nugget was found by an individual prospector in the Southern California Desert using a metal detector.
This 156 ounce (4,42 kg) nugget was found by an individual prospector in the Southern California Desert using a metal detector.

Gold in antiquity was relatively easy to obtain geologically; however, 75% of all gold ever produced has been extracted since 1910. It has been estimated that all the gold in the world that has ever been refined would form a single cube 20 m (66 ft) on a side (equivalent to 8000 m³).

One main goal of the alchemists was to produce gold from other substances, such as lead — presumably by the interaction with a mythical substance called the philosopher's stone. Although they never succeeded in this attempt, the alchemists promoted an interest in what can be done with substances, and this laid a foundation for today's chemistry. Their symbol for gold was the circle with a point at its centre (☉), which was also the astrological symbol, the Egyptian hieroglyph and the ancient Chinese character for the Sun. For modern attempts to produce artificial gold, see gold synthesis.

During the 19th century, gold rushes occurred whenever large gold deposits were discovered. The first major gold strike in the United States occurred in a small north Georgia town called Dahlonega. Further gold rushes occurred in California, Colorado, Otago, Australia, Witwatersrand, Black Hills, and Klondike.

Because of its historically high value, much of the gold mined throughout history is still in circulation in one form or another.

Occurrence

In nature, gold most often occurs in its native state (that is, as a metal), though usually alloyed with silver. Native gold contains usually eight to ten percent silver, but often much more — alloys with a silver content over 20% are called electrum. As the amount of silver increases, the colour becomes whiter and the specific gravity becomes lower.

Ores bearing native gold consist of grains or microscopic particles of metallic gold embedded in rock, often in association with veins of quartz or sulfide minerals like pyrite. These are called "lode" deposits. Native gold is also found in the form of free flakes, grains or larger nuggets that have been eroded from rocks and end up in alluvial deposits (called placer deposits). Such free gold is always richer at the surface of gold-bearing veins owing to the oxidation of accompanying minerals followed by weathering, and washing of the dust into streams and rivers, where it collects and can be welded by water action to form nuggets.

Gold sometimes occurs in minerals in chemical composition with other elements, especially in association with tellurium. Examples are calaverite, sylvanite, nagyagite, petzite and krennerite. Gold also occurs rarely as a mercury-gold amalgam, and in very low concentrations in seawater.

Production

Gold Nuggets found in Arizona
Gold Nuggets found in Arizona
The entrance to an underground gold mine in Victoria, Australia
The entrance to an underground gold mine in Victoria, Australia
Gold ore
Gold ore
World gold production trend
World gold production trend
Gold output in 2005
Gold output in 2005

Economic gold extraction can be achieved from ore grades as little as 0.5 g/1000 kg (0.5 parts per million, ppm) on average in large easily mined deposits. Typical ore grades in open-pit mines are 1–5 g/1000 kg (1–5 ppm), ore grades in underground or hard rock mines are usually at least 3 g/1000 kg (3 ppm) on average. Since ore grades of 30 g/1000 kg (30 ppm) are usually needed before gold is visible to the naked eye, in most gold mines the gold is invisible.

Since the 1880s, South Africa has been the source for a large proportion of the world’s gold supply, with about 50% of all gold ever produced having come from South Africa. Production in 1970 accounted for 79% of the world supply, producing about 1,000 tonnes. However by 2007 production was just 272 tonnes. This sharp decline was due to the increasing difficulty of extraction, changing economic factors affecting the industry, and tightened safety auditing. In 2007 China (with 276 tonnes) overtook South Africa as the world's largest gold producer, the first time since 1905 that South Africa has not been the largest.

The city of Johannesburg located in South Africa was founded as a result of the Witwatersrand Gold Rush which resulted in the discovery of some of the largest gold deposits the world has ever seen. Gold fields located within the basin in the Free State and Gauteng provinces are extensive in strike and dip requiring some of the world's deepest mines, with the Savuka and TauTona mines being currently the world's deepest gold mine at 3,777 m. The Second Boer War of 1899–1901 between the British Empire and the Afrikaner Boers was at least partly over the rights of miners and possession of the gold wealth in South Africa.

Other major producers are United States, Australia, China, Russia and Peru. Mines in South Dakota and Nevada supply two-thirds of gold used in the United States. In South America, the controversial project Pascua Lama aims at exploitation of rich fields in the high mountains of Atacama Desert, at the border between Chile and Argentina. Today about one-quarter of the world gold output is estimated to originate from artisanal or small scale mining.

After initial production, gold is often subsequently refined industrially by the Wohlwill process or the Miller process. Other methods of assaying and purifying smaller amounts of gold include parting and inquartation as well as cuppelation, or refining methods based on the dissolution of gold in aqua regia.

The world's oceans hold a vast amount of gold, but in very low concentrations (perhaps 1–2 parts per 10 billion). A number of people have claimed to be able to economically recover gold from sea water, but so far they have all been either mistaken or crooks. Reverend Prescott Jernegan ran a gold-from seawater swindle in America in the 1890s. A British fraud ran the same scam in England in the early 1900s.

Fritz Haber (the German inventor of the Haber process) attempted commercial extraction of gold from sea water in an effort to help pay Germany's reparations following the First World War. Unfortunately, his assessment of the concentration of gold in sea water was unduly high, probably due to sample contamination. The effort produced little gold and cost the German government far more than the commercial value of the gold recovered. No commercially viable mechanism for performing gold extraction from sea water has yet been identified. Gold synthesis is not economically viable and is unlikely to become so in the foreseeable future.

The average gold mining and extraction costs are $238 per troy ounce but these can vary widely depending on mining type and ore quality. In 2001, global mine production amounted to 2,604 tonnes, or 67% of total gold demand in that year. At the end of 2001, it was estimated that all the gold ever mined totaled 145,000 tonnes.

At current consumption rates, the supply of gold is believed to last 45 years.

Price

LBMA USD morning price fixings ($US per troy ounce) since 2001
LBMA USD morning price fixings ($US per troy ounce) since 2001
Gold price per ounce in USD since 1968, in actual US$ and 2006 US$
Gold price per ounce in USD since 1968, in actual US$ and 2006 US$

Like other precious metals, gold is measured by troy weight and by grams. When it is alloyed with other metals the term carat or karat is used to indicate the amount of gold present, with 24 karats being pure gold and lower ratings proportionally less. The purity of a gold bar can also be expressed as a decimal figure ranging from 0 to 1, known as the millesimal fineness, such as 0.995 being very pure.

The price of gold is determined on the open market, but a procedure known as the Gold Fixing in London, originating in September 1919, provides a daily benchmark figure to the industry. The afternoon fixing appeared in 1968 to fix a price when US markets are open.

The high price of gold is due to its rare amount. Only three parts out of every billion (0.000000003) in the Earth's crust is gold.

Historically gold was used to back currency; in an economic system known as the gold standard, a certain weight of gold was given the name of a unit of currency. For a long period, the United States government set the value of the US dollar so that one troy ounce was equal to $20.67 ($664.56/kg), but in 1934 the dollar was revalued to $35.00 per troy ounce ($1125.27/kg). By 1961 it was becoming hard to maintain this price, and a pool of US and European banks agreed to manipulate the market to prevent further currency devaluation against increased gold demand.

On 17 March 1968, economic circumstances caused the collapse of the gold pool, and a two-tiered pricing scheme was established whereby gold was still used to settle international accounts at the old $35.00 per troy ounce ($1.13/g) but the price of gold on the private market was allowed to fluctuate; this two-tiered pricing system was abandoned in 1975 when the price of gold was left to find its free-market level. Central banks still hold historical gold reserves as a store of value although the level has generally been declining. The largest gold depository in the world is that of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank in New York, which holds about 3% of the gold ever mined, as does the similarly-laden U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.

In 2005 the World Gold Council estimated total global gold supply to be 3,859 tonnes and demand to be 3,754 tonnes, giving a surplus of 105 tonnes.

Price records

Since 1968 the price of gold on the open market has ranged widely, from a high of $850/oz ($27,300/kg) on 21 January 1980, to a low of $252.90/oz ($8,131/kg) on 21 June 1999 (London Gold Fixing). The 1980 high was not overtaken until 3 January 2008 when a new record of $865.35 per troy ounce was set in the a.m. London Gold Fixing. Indexed for inflation, the 1980 high would equate to a price of $2398.21 in 2007 dollars. On January 10, 2008, gold futures for February delivery was $884 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, erasing by $10 the previous record of $875 in 1980, and later it settled at $880.30. On February 26, 2008, gold and platinum dollar prices climbed to historic highs of 948.90 and 2,130.90 dollars per ounce, respectively (London Platinum and Palladium Market). On Thursday, March 13th 2008, gold futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose over $1,000/ounce for the first time.

Compounds

Although gold is a noble metal, it forms many and diverse compounds. The oxidation state of gold in its compound ranges from −1 to +5 but Au(I) and Au(III) dominate. Gold(I), referred to as the aurous ion, is the most common oxidation state with “soft” ligands such as thioethers, thiolates, and tertiary phosphines. Au(I) compounds are typically linear. A good example is Au(CN)2, which is the soluble form of gold encountered in mining. Curiously, aurous complexes of water are rare. The binary gold halides, such as AuCl, form zig-zag polymeric chains, again featuring linear coordination at Au. Most drugs based on gold are Au(I) derivatives.

Gold(III) (“auric”) is a common oxidation state and is illustrated by gold(III) chloride, AuCl3. Its derivative is chloroauric acid, HAuCl4, which forms when Au dissolves in aqua regia. Au(III) complexes, like other d8 compounds, are typically square planar.

Less common oxidation states: Au(-I), Au(II), and Au(V)

Compounds containing the Au anion are called aurides. Caesium auride, CsAu which crystallizes in the caesium chloride motif. Other aurides include those of Rb+, K+, and tetramethylammonium (CH3)4N+. Gold(II) compounds are usually diamagnetic with Au-Au bonds such as [Au(CH2)2P(C6H5)2]2Cl2. A noteworthy, legitimate Au(II) complex contains xenon as a ligand, [AuXe4](Sb2F11)2. Gold pentafluoride is the sole example of Au(V), the highest verified oxidation state.

Some gold compounds exhibit aurophilic bonding, which describes the tendency of gold ions to interact at distances that are too long to be a conventional Au-Au bond but shorter that van der Waals bonding. The interaction is estimated to be comparable in strength to that of a hydrogen bond.

Mixed valence compounds

Well-defined cluster compounds are numerous. In such cases, gold has a fractional oxidation state. A representative example is the octahedral species {Au( P(C6H5)3)}62+. Gold chalcogenides, e.g. "AuS" feature equal amounts of Au(I) and Au(III).

Isotopes

There is one stable isotope of gold, and 18 radioisotopes with 195Au being the most stable with a half-life of 186 days.

Gold has been proposed as a " salting" material for nuclear weapons (cobalt is another, better-known salting material). A jacket of natural gold, irradiated by the intense high-energy neutron flux from an exploding thermonuclear weapon, would transmute into the radioactive isotope Au-198 with a half-life of 2.697 days and produce approximately .411 MeV of gamma radiation, significantly increasing the radioactivity of the weapon's fallout for several days. Such a weapon is not known to have ever been built, tested, or used.

Symbolism

Three Gold Sovereigns with a Krugerrand
Three Gold Sovereigns with a Krugerrand
Swiss-cast 1 kg gold bar.
Swiss-cast 1 kg gold bar.

Gold has been associated with the extremities of utmost evil and great sanctity throughout history. In the Book of Exodus, the Golden Calf is a symbol of idolatry and rebellion against God. In Communist propaganda, the golden pocket watch and its fastening golden chain were the characteristic accessories of the class enemy, the bourgeois and the industrial tycoons. Credit card companies associate their product with wealth by naming and coloring their top-of-the-range cards “gold;” although, in an attempt to out-do each other, platinum (and the even-more-elite black card) has now overtaken gold.

On the other hand in the Book of Genesis, Abraham was said to be rich in gold and silver, and Moses was instructed to cover the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant with pure gold. Eminent orators such as John Chrysostom were said to have a “mouth of gold with a silver tongue.” Gold is associated with notable anniversaries, particularly in a 50-year cycle, such as a golden wedding anniversary, golden jubilee, etc.

Great human achievements are frequently rewarded with gold, in the form of medals and decorations. Winners of races and prizes are usually awarded the gold medal (such as the Olympic Games and the Nobel Prize), while many award statues are depicted in gold (such as the Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards the Emmy Awards, the Palme d'Or, and the British Academy Film Awards).

Medieval kings were inaugurated under the signs of sacred oil and a golden crown, the latter symbolizing the eternal shining light of heaven and thus a Christian king's divinely inspired authority. Wedding rings are traditionally made of gold; since it is long-lasting and unaffected by the passage of time, it is considered a suitable material for everyday wear as well as a metaphor for the relationship. In Orthodox Christianity, the wedded couple is adorned with a golden crown during the ceremony, an amalgamation of symbolic rites.

The symbolic value of gold varies greatly around the world, even within geographic regions. For example, gold is quite common in Turkey but considered a most valuable gift in Sicily.

Toxicity

Pure gold is non-toxic and non-irritating when ingested and is sometimes used as a food decoration in the form of gold leaf. It is also a component of the alcoholic drinks Goldschläger, Gold Strike, and Goldwasser. Gold is approved as a food additive in the EU ( E175 in the Codex Alimentarius).

Soluble compounds ( gold salts) such as potassium gold cyanide, used in gold electroplating, are toxic to the liver and kidneys. There are rare cases of lethal gold poisoning from potassium gold cyanide. Gold toxicity can be ameliorated with chelating agents such as British anti-Lewisite.

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