Ludvig de Knoop, from Chalmers’ Department of Physics, positioned a tiny fragment of gold in an electron microscope. Peering at the highest level of magnification and incrementally boosting the electric field to intensely high levels, he was curious to find out how those manipulations might impact the gold atoms.
Then, when studying the atoms in the recordings from the microscope, the scientist observed something extraordinary. The surface layers of gold had wound up melting while they remained at room temperature.
In a press release, Ludvig de Knoop said, "I was really stunned by the discovery. This is an extraordinary phenomenon, and it gives us new, foundational knowledge of gold”.
The explanation? The gold atoms "became excited", letting loose of their typically organized structure while being influenced by an electric field. Looking into the matter further, researchers found that possibilities existed to alternate the gold between a molten and a solid form.
This news signals a potential groundbreaking scientific discovery.
After doing some theoretical calculations, researchers now know a bit more about why gold would melt at room temperature. One theory: a "low-dimensional phase transition", related to the field of topology.
Eva Olsson, Professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers, said, "Because we can control and change the properties of the surface atom layers, it opens doors for different kinds of applications. For example, the technology could be used in different types of sensors, catalysts and transistors. There could also be opportunities for new concepts for contactless components".
Researchers plan to continue their work to discover the exact reasons why gold melts under relatively low temperatures. For the time being, though, people wanting to melt gold should still plan on consulting a local goldsmith.