Pyrite was historically nicknamed Fool’s Gold. due to its deceptive resemblance to precious metals
The term was often used during the California gold rush of the 1840s as inexperienced explorers would claim to have discovered gold. but in fact it is a pyrite which contains worthless iron (FeS₂).
Surprisingly, pyrite crystals may contain small amounts of pure gold. even though it is difficult to extract The gold that is hidden within the densities is sometimes called “Invisible gold” because it cannot be observed with a standard microscope. Instead, it had to use sophisticated scientific tools.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers discovered that dense gold can come in various forms. whether the particles of gold or is an alloy in which pyrite and gold are intricately mixed
In our new research, published in the journal Geology, I and colleagues discovered a third previously unknown method. where gold can lurk in the dense When pyrite crystals form under extreme temperatures or pressures It can develop minor imperfections in its crystal structure that can be “decorated”; with gold atoms.
What are these ‘crystal defects’?
The atoms within the crystal are arranged in a pattern known as lattice atoms. But when mineral crystals, for example, become denser within the rock This lattice pattern can develop imperfections.
Like many minerals dense and hard at the surface of the earth But they can become more distorted and stretched as they form deep in the Earth where gold is deposited.
when the crystals are stretched or twisted Bonds between neighboring atoms break and form new ones. This creates billions of tiny imperfections known as “dislocations,” each about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, or 100 times smaller than a virus particle.
The chemistry of these atomic imperfections is difficult to study because they are so small. Therefore, the impurity is present in very small quantities. Detection requires a special tool called atomic probes.
Atomic probes can analyze materials at very high resolutions. But the main advantage over other methods is to help us create a 3D map showing the precise location of impurities within the crystal. which is something that has never happened before
Our research found that discrepancies within dense crystals can be “decorated” with gold atoms. This is especially common for crystals to be distorted during history. Here, gold can appear at concentrations many times higher than the rest of the crystal.
potential gold mine
Why should everyone care about the little things? It provides an interesting insight into how minerals are deposited. It is also useful for the gold mining industry.
Previously, it was suspected that the gold in unusually high concentrations of pyrite crystals was actually made from gold particles formed during a multistage process. This indicates that pyrite and gold will crystallize over time.
But our discovery that gold can beautify these crystal imperfections has shown that even dense crystals with relatively high gold content can be formed in a single process.
Our findings may also help gold miners extract gold from pyrites more efficiently. This may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. in the extraction of gold Minerals are often oxidized in large reactors. which uses a lot of energy
Movable points within the crystal may offer partial leaching or a target for bacteria to attack and destroy the crystal. release gold in a process known as “Biological leaching”, thereby reducing the energy consumption required for extraction. This concept has not been tested. But it definitely deserves a review.
If it helps pave the way for more sustainable methods of gold mining. Maybe fool’s gold isn’t that stupid.
Perhaps pyrite still has the historical reputation that “Fool’s gold” until better and more environmentally friendly mineral processing techniques are developed.
Denis Fougerouse, Research Fellow at the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Curtin University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.