One of the most famous photographs of gold’s scientific use didn’t even get shot on earth.
It took place on a little heavenly body, a ¼ of a million miles away, that we see every single night.
The body was the moon – and the occasion was the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.
Hasselblad cameras, Omega watches, and gold all gained colossal publicity from the estimated 650 million viewers globally.
The lunar surface scene appearing by magic on Neil Armstrong’s helmet’s visor became a historical record of the mission.
But this helmet visor held a secret or two.
Known as the A7-L Luna Extravehicular Visor Assembly, the helmet had to protect
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from many hazards they might encounter on the Moon’s surface.
An unexpected impact from a fall, a flying piece of rock from the hammers used to get samples or micrometeorite damage, was taken care of by a polycarbonate shell – but two visors provided the thermal, infrared, and ultraviolet light protection.
One of these visors had a thermal control coating – the other had a gold optical layer. Along with this, there were two sun shields to the side that could be raised and lowered.
The main visor had 24 karat gold metalized onto it. Gold is known for being almost indestructible. It has total corrosion resistance and is one of the most stable substances known to man.
As a thin coat, externally, it is highly reflective of light and heat. So it was the obvious choice as a protective shield that allowed the astronauts to see through it while having a shading and cooling effect against harmful solar rays and other nasties usually protected against on earth by an atmosphere.
This technology is used today in architecture to enable buildings to be shaded by glass.
Glass would typically have a greenhouse effect within a building – but glass like Kapafloat glass – the old name for the first off-line coated, low emissivity glass – now called Pilkington Optitherm, was based around this idea of a thermal protective coating within the glass itself.
Gold has been used in science and a variety of ways for hundreds of years. One of the most common usages is in old timepieces.
Watches and clocks were essential tools for navigation and timekeeping before the advent of GPS and modern atomic clocks we take for granted.
These instruments were both delicate and complicated and the components needed to be reliable and accurate.
Precious metals – especially gold – were used because of their anti-corrosive properties and their malleability. When made into an alloy to harden the metal, gold’s uses expanded in the scientific community to other instruments such as voltmeters, simple oscilloscopes, and other measuring devices.
In groundbreaking research on the properties of gold, V. Novotny from the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto discovered that the metal’s conduction process is due to the scattering of phonons, which leaves the electrical and thermal conductivity being carried out almost exclusively by electrons.
This purity of resistance means that gold is almost the perfect carrier of heat and electricity. Commercial gold wiring is used in critical electronic and thermal components in aircraft and other high risk/reward applications.
One of the innovations where such gold wiring has proved useful is cryogenics. As metals become cold, they lose conductivity. Gold is the least resistant metal, electrically, at low temperatures such as absolute zero.
This has implications for its application to material preservation – human bodies and body parts, blood samples, histology and biopsy extractions, seeds and plants, rare and extinct animal DNA, and other low-temperature applications.
With the renewed interest in spaceflight – and Elon musk’s announcement of a future Mars mission – deep space conductivity in low temperatures and a vacuum has ramifications for all kinds of systems for life-support and propulsion.
Medicine and life sciences is an area where gold is becoming useful.
In fields like cancer research and infection prevention, development is taking place at breakneck speed.
Pharmaceutical companies are continually experimenting with applications that involve gold somehow, and its therapeutic properties are gradually becoming more apparent.
Because gold has an oxidation state of +1, it has been adapted to produce an orally administered drug called Auranofin, which treats rheumatoid arthritis. The FDA first approved this in 1985.
Gold has the highest redox potential, electron affinity, and electronegativity of any metal in the periodic table. Chemically, this means it has unconventional relativistic effects.
For anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory use, 22 patents were registered in the last decade, which utilize gold as a significant component.
- Gold(I) complexes with thiosemicarbazones: cytotoxicity against human tumor cell lines and inhibition of thioredoxin reductase activity
- Bioconjugation of Cyclometalated Gold(III) Lipoic Acid Fragments to Linear and Cyclic Breast Cancer Targeting Peptides
- Antiproliferative effects of two gold(I)-N-heterocyclic carbene complexes in A2780 human ovarian cancer cells
Gold nanoparticle-mediated photothermal therapy and immunotherapy
As you can see, these are serious research applications.
The effects of several major gold complexes on innate immune system problems are another area of ongoing development.
Gold compounds can promote direct immune cell-mediated destruction and synergistically promote the T cell-based anticancer immunity cycle via DC.
Gold complexes can induce NK mast cell activation and proliferation, monocytes/macrophages, neutrophils, and various inflammatory mediators’ release.
Furthermore, gold complexes induce DC maturation and enhance antigen presentation through TLR3 dependent signaling.
The effects of gold on NK cell, natural killer cell; DC, dendritic cell; LPS, lipopolysaccharide; TLR, toll-like receptor; TNF-α, tumor necrosis factor α; IL, interleukin; AuTM, sodium aurothiomalate; GST, gold sodium thiomalate; PKC, protein kinase C; HMGB1, and high mobility group box chromosomal protein 1, are all under exploration.
Gold science into the future
Significant advances in computing power, artificial intelligence, and general communications mean that research by companies, institutions, and universities into all aspects of gold in scientific applications and research are advancing in greater detail and at a much faster rate than ever before.
This means that for the right applications – and the right markets – especially in the therapeutic sphere – there will be many investment opportunities to consider.
Gold is undoubtedly here to stay. Along with the other precious metals, silver, platinum, and palladium, There will be applications in thermodynamics, astrophysics, cryogenics, biological and life sciences, which we cannot even imagine today.
It is a material like no other – and its intrinsic value can only be enhanced by finding innovative and exciting new projects beyond vaults and jewelry.
Cancer research is probably the central area of growth. With more than 8 million deaths each year, the threat to human health from cancer is significant, and the need for new treatments will increase exponentially as the world’s population ages.
The reduction of radical cystectomies, cancer re-occurrences, and treatment costs mean that research into the development of gold nanoparticles mediated therapy is a highly competitive sphere.
Gold nanoparticles (GNPs) can be injected intravenously – and nanostars, nanocages, nanorods, nanoshells, and nanospheres are all terms that will come to be as familiar to us as chemotherapy and radiotherapy are today.