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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
Scientists create gold 'substitute'
Scientists in Newcastle have patented their discovery
University scientists in Tyneside believe they have struck gold.

For chemists at Newcastle University have created a new material "gold nitride" which could replace current gold alloys.

The new find could save the electronics industry millions of pounds a year as gold nitride could prove more durable and reliable than the real thing.

Gold is used as a conductor in products such as computers, mobile phones and smart cards.

But it is hugely expensive and often combined with cheaper materials such as nickel and iron.

Now, researchers at Newcastle University have come up with gold nitride - which they say is much more durable than the gold alloys, and a thinner layer could be used, thus reducing manufacturing costs.

The university has already filed a patent to make sure any money made from the invention will come back to them.

Several attempts have been made over the last 20 years to make gold nitride.

Pollution risk

The university's Dr Lidija Siller, of the university's school of chemical engineering and advanced materials, used a technique called ion implantation to create the material.

It involved placing gold in an experimental chamber under ultra high vacuum, cleaning it with argon and then heating up the gold crystal.

This was then irradiated with nitrogen ions using a spattering gun.

As it is invisible to the naked eye she then checked whether gold nitride had been formed by looking at it using X-ray techniques.

Dr Siller, who began her experiments with gold nitride in 2001, said: "I am starting to investigate its properties and to see how it performs in terms of conductivity and durability.

"Early indications suggest that it will certainly be cheaper to manufacture, as nitrogen makes up 80% of the atmosphere around us.

"It is harmless and does not provide a pollution risk unlike some of the metals which are usually mixed with gold, such as arsenic, lead or cobalt."

Previous attempts to make gold nitride failed because they were based on scientists' misunderstanding of the kinetic reaction between gold and nitrogen, Dr Siller said.



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