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Heroes

Working at tiny scales, scientists transform gold into something even more incredible.

Did he just call my wedding ring "boring"?

You've heard of nanotech, right? It's basically working with things that are really, really tiny.*

When you zoom into something to a super small scale, really surprising things can happen.

Take gold. We like it because it lasts a lifetime (and longer)! It makes good watches, rings, and coins because it doesn't react with oxygen and become tarnished or corroded. It just sits there, a gleaming symbol of never-ending love and power.


But if you zoom in much, much more closely to a tiny particle of gold, it transforms to something very different!

One of your grandparents can wear a gold ring that doesn't change in a lifetime. But up close, gold becomes a much more exciting scene.

Scientists have been able to attach molecules of drugs to surfaces of gold at this scale and use gold as a delivery vehicle to take medicines to particular sites in the body. Vroom!

Rod-shaped nano gold particles can be loaded up with antibodies that bond only to cancer cells. The nano gold can by made to oscillate via infrared light until — boom! Bad day for cancer cell.

Zoom in even farther, and things get really weird.

Super tiny pieces of gold can be used to change carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. That kind of magic suggests that maybe we can use gold to make better breathing apparatus for fire fighters, for example, or to purify water.

We're already surrounded by products using nanotech. Nano silver in clothing and packaging fights bacteria that makes things stinky. Nano titanium dioxide makes sunscreens, paints, and other coatings more reflective, helping shield your body and your house from the sun.

These wondrous tiny things can also easily pass through cell membranes, taking new materials where they've never gone before. So, like with all new technologies,we do want to be careful to research the risks as well as the benefits as we develop and deploy it.

That said, the future looks pretty sparkly for nano gold!


*For an excellent overview of scale check out this video that zooms from the smallest thing we know to the largest. You hit nano scale at about 0:39.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

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This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


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