We’re not sure this qualifies as engineering, but whatever it is, it’s pretty nifty: a 21st century version of the ancient philosopher’s stone. Turning – stuff – into gold. Today, on Engineering Works!
It’s easy to sneer at the centuries-long efforts of alchemists to find some way to turn base metals – iron, lead, whatever – into gold. Looking back from here, the idea seems obviously silly. But ‘way back then, it made as much sense as some of the other real chemical processes they were discovering. Even the brilliant mathematician Sir Isaac Newton spent a lot of time in the search. The problem they all had was it didn’t work.
Turn down your skeptical meter for a minute. It looks like researchers have found a way to get gold from what looks like nothing.
This is nothing like what the old alchemists tried to do. This process starts with solutions that contain vanishingly small amounts of gold. An especially constructed bacterium eats, metabolizes, the solutions and excretes tiny specks of gold. The process isn’t fast, but you end up with usable amounts of gold.
Some people want to turn the bacterium loose on seawater, which carries lots of minerals in a very, very dilute solution. The researchers want to find out if the bacterium could metabolize gold in seawater into the next mother lode. Stay tuned.
We’re done talking about gold for today. See you next time.
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