Potential Benefits of Gold Nanotechnology

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"Environmental clean-up and medical uses are among gold's potential uses."

Scientists have found that tiny traces of gold, or nanoparticles, can be used to speed up the process of cleaning up contaminated groundwater, another finding in a trend whereby scientists are studying the use of the metal for new technologies.

"The concept works," said Michael Wong, a professor and chemical engineer leading a research project at Rice University.

Other institutions around the world are undertaking similar studies with gold and emerging nanotechnology. At Imperial College London in England, a team led by professor Molly Stevens is researching use of gold nanoparticles in designing tools to improve early diagnosis of diseases, including HIV/AIDS and sepsis. Professor Carole Perry and a team at England's Nottingham Trent University have found that combining gold nanoparticles with antibiotics may lead to materials with improved and longer-lasting antimicrobial effectiveness.

A World Gold Council official said there is an "explosion" of interest in gold-related technological science, but that breakthroughs can be slow to achieve commercial success due to a lack of investment and support. Thus, the WGC is helping bridge a funding gap that otherwise exists between government-funded early-stage research and later venture-capital commercialization of gold-related technology, in the fields of medical diagnosis and treatment, environmental protection and renewable energy.

Nanoparticles of gold are extremely tiny portion of an ounce of gold. Still, if they are used in enough products, this has potential to eventually become an identifiable source of demand. As an example, Richard Holliday, director of technology for the WGC, pointed to the tiny particles of platinum used in catalytic converters.

"It's going to take a little while for these to move down toward commercialization," Holiday said. “But we certainly think there is a lot of promise out there."

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