For centuries, man has tried to find way to create gold from common metals. However, it is about time to think that perhaps, our pursuit was misguided. A chemist at Princeton University is now challenging this age-old approach. Dr. Chirik has been successful, to some extent, in creating ways of making one element ‘behave’ like another, more precious element.
Imagine a chemical reaction in which you have to use the ultra-expensive metal, platinum, as a catalyst. That surely would bump up the costs of the process significantly. However, Dr. Chirik envisions a way through which another metal, say iron, could be made to act the same way as platinum during a chemical process.
That certainly doesn’t mean that he could convert iron to platinum – rather, he has been working on making iron ‘behave’ as much as platinum as possible. And in this, he has been fairly successful.
When it comes to iron, Dr. Chirik has managed to wrap iron molecules in an organic molecule ‘ligand.’ When ligand wraps itself around iron, it essentially alters the bonding composition of iron molecules and gives it a unique geometrical shape, thus giving the iron many new chemical properties which may aid it in becoming an effective catalyst.
This, in a way, redefines the very way we have been treating elements. Rather than fruitlessly pursuing the goal of creating precious metals in labs, why not simply try to imitate their chemical properties in other elements? Naturally, Dr. Chirik’s research holds huge potential and he is currently backed by a number of industry giants, including Chevron.
By focusing on more abundant elements and finding ways to use them as catalysts, we would be in a far lesser need of mining the more rarer elements. This would, in turn, reduce the needs to dig out these precious elements from mines and mitigate the adverse affects of such mining on Earth’s environment.