Originally posted on Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Los Alamos National Laboratory — one of the U.S. government’s major science and technology facilities — maintains a database on the elements of the periodic table.

This is what it has to say about gold:

Pure gold has a

metallic yellow color.


Atomic Number: 79 Atomic Radius: 217 pm (Van der Waals)
Atomic Symbol: Au Melting Point: 1064.18 °C
Atomic Weight: 197.0 Boiling Point: 2856 °C
Electron Configuration: [Xe]6s14f145d10 Oxidation States: 3, 1



Known and highly valued from earliest times, gold is found in nature as the free metal and in tellurides; it is very widely distributed and is almost always associated with quartz or pyrite.


It occurs in veins and alluvial deposits, and is often separated from rocks and other minerals by mining and panning operations. About two thirds of the world’s gold output comes from South Africa, and about two thirds of the total U.S. production comes from South Dakota and Nevada. The metal is recovered from its ores by cyaniding, amalgamating, and smelting processes. Refining is also frequently done by electrolysis. Gold occurs in sea water to the extent of 0.1 to 2 mg/ton, depending on the location where the sample is taken. As yet, no method has been found for recovering gold from sea water profitably.


It is estimated that all the gold in the world, so far refined, could be placed in a single cube 60 ft. on a side. Of all the elements, gold in its pure state is undoubtedly the most beautiful. It is metallic, having a yellow color when in a mass, but when finely divided it may be black, ruby, or purple. The Purple of Cassius is a delicate test for auric gold. It is the most malleable and ductile metal; 1 oz. of gold can be beaten out to 300 ft2. It is a soft metal and is usually alloyed to give it more strength. It is a good conductor of heat and electricity, and is unaffected by air and most reagents.


It is used in coinage and is a standard for monetary systems in many countries. It is also extensively used for jewelry, decoration, dental work, and for plating. It is used for coating certain space satellites, as it is a good reflector of infrared and is inert.

Why the gold standard?

According to our national chemistry and physics boffins — “gold in its pure state is undoubtedly the most beautiful.”

Bonus: gold is far easier to spell than ytterbium.