Gizmorama: Life in the Tech Age

By WES STEWART, United Press International  |  Oct. 29, 2002 at 1:30 AM
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Gold is a metal of many shapes and images. From the golden sarcophagus of King Tutankhamen to actress Shirley Eaton's unforgettable gilded corpse in the movie "Goldfinger," it pervades our culture and much of human history.

Speaking of which, nearly 700 years ago, Mansa Musa, the emperor of Mali, was reported to have crossed the African continent with a caravan that included some 100 camel-loads of gold. Estimates vary, but each of the camels was said to have carried about 300 pounds of the stuff -- worth about a million-and-a-half dollars.

We've mostly given up using gold for money, but it's just as valuable now as it ever was. Ancient goldsmiths could hammer the stuff into paper-thin sheets, but modern technology has taken gold's properties farther. It has produced ultra-thin, transparent layers of the metal that protect against the harmful solar rays in spacesuit face shields and visors and in the windscreens of many fighter aircraft.

Then there is gold's conductive properties. It conducts electricity so well it is used as a contact metal in high-end electronic systems, such as the connectors in expensive stereo components.

Now as in olden times, people still love gold jewelry. Today it carries a Karat stamp to tell the buyer what percent of gold and what percent of mixed metals, or alloy, composes a particular piece. Don't feel slighted if you are not purchasing pure gold, however. It's too soft a metal to be practical for everyday use. You need to combine it with other metals to give it some durability.

If a jewelry item reads 24K, it's 100 percent gold. A 12K piece is only 50-percent gold.

In copy machines, gold is used to create the high-quality surface reflecting mirrors.

Gold is used to coat the mirrors of giant telescopes because of its capability to reflect infrared light. It also provides lightweight insulation for satellites, the space shuttles and the International Space Station. If you visit the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, look at the sides of the Skylab exhibit. Under the lexan, put there to protect against curious hands, that yellow metal you see is gold.

Then there's this, from the Gold Institute Web site:

Accidents, disease or surgery can cause a condition called Lagophthalmos, or the inability to close the eyelids fully. In order to keep the eyes from drying out, doctors previously resorted to sewing the eyelids half shut. But a new gold eyelid implant now is the current form of treatment. The gold "eyelid load implants," as they are called, are inserted surgically into the upper lid and allow the eye to blink normally. The muscle that opens the eyelid works to hold the eyelid open. Then when the muscle relaxes, gravity exerted on the gold causes the eyelid to drop.

Gold is the best choice for this device because it does not corrode and will not react with tears.

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