Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79. It is a transitional metal, part of Group 11, the same group as silver and copper. It's well known for its corrosion resistance and its high economic value. Gold is mainly used in jewels, electronics and as exchange.
Gold is very resistant to acid and alkali attacks and does not react with oxgen or halogens at standard conditions. However a mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid known as aqua regia will dissolve gold.
- Au + HNO3 + 4 HCl → HAuCl4 + NO + 2 H2O
Gold can also be dissolved by cyanides, such as sodium cyanide, a process used in gold extraction, when the gold concentration is low. Mercury dissolves gold forming an amalgam.
Gold is a bright yellow dense, soft, malleable and ductile metal. Very pure gold (24 carat) is soft enough to be dent by biting it, a practice occasionally seen in gold diggers and Olympic athletes, who traditionally bit their gold medals. Gold is the most malleable of all metals, one gram can be beaten into a sheet of 1 square meter. It has high thermal and electric conductivity, properties that gives it many uses in electronics. It's density of 19.3 g/cm3 is slightly higher than the one of tungsten and uranium.
Gold can be found in nature as nuggets, either pure or mixed with silver or platinum group metals. During the Gold Rush, very large nuggets were dug up from the rivers. Nowadays, nuggets tend to be rarer, instead grain sized gold is more often found, as previous extraction methods focused on large nuggets.
Gold can be extracted from jewelry, but doing so often destroys jewelry that would cost more than the gold it is made of. Gold bullions and coins are also a source of gold, albeit an expensive one.
Gold leaf, used in food decorations are also a source of gold, albeit the quantity is small and it's usually a gold alloy.
However the most sought source of gold are scrap electronics. Extracting gold from old electronics such as finger and socket contacts, pins, CPUs, RAM chips, board plating, adjustable switches, etc. is one of the most known aspects of amateur chemistry. Usually the older the electronic device is, the more gold it has. Extracting the gold is done by various methods: dissolving the copper circuit with a PCB etchant, such as ferric chloride and collecting the gold foil by filtering the solution, which is later purified by dissolving it in aqua regia and melted; dissolving the boards in cyanide solution, reducing the gold cyanide compound and melting the powder; dissolving the gold with mercury and extracting the gold; electrochemical separation. The amount of gold obtained is low, but it's a cheap source.
Gold can be reduced from its salts by reducing it with a reducing compound. Since gold sits close to the bottom of the reactivity scale, any common metal will reduce it to its elemental form. In case of chloroauric acid, it is usually reduced with sodium metabisulfite.
- Gold plating
- Gold colloids
- Gold electrode
Pure gold is non-toxic and it's even used in medical implants. However, its compounds, especially the salts are toxic and they should be handled with proper protection.
No special storage is required for bulk and powdered gold.
Due to gold's price and rarity, it's best to try and recycle as much gold as possible.