Usually melting gold requires temperatures upwards of 1,064° C (1,947° F), but scientists have figured out how to do this at room temperature using only electricity.
It is a common misunderstanding that you can only melt something by turning the heat up, in fact you can achieve similar results via pressurization and apparently, electricity. Scientists confirmed the latter by utilizing a combination of an electric field generator and electron microscope.
After placing a piece of gold under the highest degree of magnification possible they began slowly increasing the electric field, causing the outer layer to dissolve, effectively melting the gold at room temperature using only electricity. They could also reverse this process, solidifying the gold once more by switching off the electric field
“I was really stunned by the discovery,” says Ludvig de Knoop, first author of the study. “This is an extraordinary phenomenon, and it gives us new, foundational knowledge of gold.”
Scientists hypothesize that this may be the result of a phenomena called low-dimensional phase transition. Researchers plan to investigate that possibility moving forward. Applications could include faster composition of microchips by reducing the amount of total energy required to melt gold. Because of it’s unparalleled degree of conductivity, gold is vital to electronic products such as your smartphone.
“Because we can control and change the properties of the surface atom layers, it opens doors for different kinds of applications,” says Eva Olsson, an author of the study. “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.”
The research was published in the journal Physical Review Materials.