Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Explains Fundamental Properties of Gold


Heidelberg chemists compare gold, silver and copper atoms in compounds with otherwise identical structures

Some fundamental properties of the coinage metal elements gold, silver and copper, such as chemical behaviour or colours, are already predetermined in their atoms. The unique properties of gold can be largely explained by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Foto: Matthias W. Hussong, Organisch-Chemisches Institut

Lösungen der drei Metallcarben-Komplexe von Kupfer, Silber und Gold (v.l.n.r.)

Chemists from Heidelberg University have been able to demonstrate this through their investigations of gold, silver and copper carbenes. They examined only single atoms of each metal in order to compare the three elements. The results of this research, led by Prof. Dr. Bernd Straub, were published in both the German and international editions of the journal “Angewandte Chemie” for applied and fundamental chemistry.

The properties of chemical elements are recurring periodically, since related elements possess the same number of electrons in the relevant outer shell and differ only due to additional inner electron shells. Copper, silver and gold belong to such a group of related elements.

“Comparing copper metal, silver metal and gold metal with their numerous neighbouring metal atoms has never been a problem, as pure metals have been around for millennia,” explains Prof. Straub, a lecturer and researcher at the Institute of Organic Chemistry. However, he and his team were able to ascertain the differences of single atoms – in an otherwise identical molecule with which the metal atoms interact very strongly with a carbon atom via double bonds.

The Heidelberg scientists started their investigations with gold carbenes, which comprise a usually unstable – because highly reactive – double bond between carbon and gold. However, using a chemical “trick”, Prof. Straub and his team found a way to obtain and to isolate a stable gold carbene complex for research purposes. In further steps they managed to prepare and characterise a copper carbene and a silver carbene with otherwise identical structure, even though both these compounds were much more sensitive and unstable than the gold carbene.

Nevertheless, these complexes enabled the scientists to make a detailed comparison of the three elements of the coinage metal group – copper, silver and gold – on the scale of a molecule. Through the crystallisation of the particularly unstable silver carbene, they were able to determine the bond length between silver and the doubly-bonded carbon via an x-ray structural analysis. They then compared this with the shorter, stronger bonding between gold and carbon.

From their observations the researchers conclude that the properties of gold are fundamentally determined by “relativistic effects”. These effects come into play in physics when a phenomenon can no longer be described as “classical”. In chemistry this applies to the properties of certain elements.

The relativistic effects derive from Albert Einstein‘s theory of relativity with the well-known formula E = mc2 by which Einstein established a connection between energy, mass and speed of light. “Of the stable elements, the predicted relativistic effects are most noticeable with gold,” says Prof. Straub. A well-known example is the striking difference in colour between yellow gold metal and colorless silver metal.

Bernd Straub explains that, due to the attraction of the 79-fold positively charged gold nucleus, negatively charged gold electrons achieve such high velocities close to the speed of light (c) that additional motion energy (E) cannot substantially increase their speed. Instead, these electrons increase their mass (m). This effect is seen in the outermost electron shell, which is active and thus responsible for chemical behaviour, colours and properties of coinage metals.

In the case of gold, this leads to a strengthening of its bonds. Gold compounds thereby have a better chance, for example, of activating a triple bond between two carbon atoms. The comparison between the coinage metal elements gold, silver and copper with the double-bond carbon in each case showed that the atomic behaviour of gold is more similar to copper than to silver, although silver is its direct neighbour in the periodic system.

The research findings of the Heidelberg chemists confirm that Einstein‘s theory of relativity does not just play a crucial role in astronomy and space travel with their huge distances. Prof. Straub also emphasises its significance in the world of electrons, atoms and molecules.

Original publication:
M.W. Hussong, W.T. Hoffmeister, F. Rominger, B.F. Straub: Copper and Silver Carbene Complexes without Heteroatom-Stabilization: Structure, Spectroscopy, and Relativistic Effects. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2015, 54, 10331-10335, doi: 10.1002/anie.201504117

Prof. Dr. Bernd F. Straub
Institute of Organic Chemistry
Phone +49 6221 54-6239

Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone +49 6221 54-2311

Weitere Informationen:

Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Angewandte Chemie COPPER Electrons Relativity properties single atoms speed of light

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Mitochondria control stem cell fate
27.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht How a fungus inhibits the immune system of plants
27.10.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

The gene of autumn colours

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Polymer scaffolds build a better pill to swallow

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>