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Not everything that shines is gold, but then, why did so many cultures choose it as currency if there were apparently so many other options?
While it is a precious metal, there are more valuable items and even others have been used as money, but gold became the yardstick for measuring excellence.
Was it a coincidence or the truth is that it was always unlikely that we would end up saying ” time is mercury ” or ” boro key opens everything “?
To find out, we went to a person who had long been entrusted with the mission of making us understand chemistry, Andrea Sella, from University College London, who enthusiastically accepted the idea of sitting down with a periodic table of chemical elements to answer our questions.
Or rather: to eliminate elements left and right without compassion … entire ranks and groups disappeared, often with a single word.
But let’s start with it completely.
Andrea Sella attacked the ends first.
On the right, the elements of the bright blue column are very attractive for the purpose that concerns us: they are chemically stable elements , so that they do not change, a characteristic that is more than necessary.
But they have a big problem: it is the group of noble gases.
Although you could conceive of using gases as a currency, perhaps putting them in ampules, it would not be very practical to go around with them.
Also, they are colorless, so you would not be sure if what you are carrying is air and if you open them, goodbye money.
Therefore they are easy to discard, along with hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine and chlorine, which are in other groups but are also gases .
And while having gas coins is not convenient, neither is it liquid .
At room temperature and pressure, mercury and bromine are.
Oh! and they have a more serious problem: they are toxic , a feature shared by many other elements, such as that metalloid that has been a classic poison since at least the Middle Ages, arsenic , and lead , although we have it in the body, Exposure to high doses can kill.
In fact, all metalloids are either too soft to be coins or poisonous.
They are not the only ones but, for now, the table without gases or liquids and detoxified looks like this:
I do not know if they noticed, but all the non-metals group that was in the neighborhood disappeared because they are very weak so they can not be stretched or turned into a sheet. They also lost that first battle the other metals for being soft.
Qualifying to be a currency is not easy!
Next, Sella turned her attention to the left, and in her sights were the elements that are orange.
They are metals: a point in favor. The problem is that they are very reactive . Some, like lithium, when exposed to air, burst into flames spontaneously; others corrode and crumble.
So they are not exactly what you want to put in your pockets.
In fact, the reactive being also disqualifies the elements of the neighboring column, the alkaline earth metals and those of the penultimate row or period: the rare earths, which really are not so rare , since they are found in abundance in the earth’s crust.
Their name is due to the fact that they are rarely found in concentrations large enough for an easy recovery of their minerals. That is another point against him for our purpose.
They are also difficult to distinguish chemically, so it would be difficult to know how rich you are.
Now, if the elements that are reactive do not have a chance, the radioactive ones do not even enter the contest.
Faced with so many bumps, the board shrugged notoriously:
Not even this handful of elements was safe, although for reasons of another nature.
The ideal metal for a coin should not be very abundant , such as iron (which is also oxidized), but not too scarce , such as osmium.
The finalists? 5 of the 8 noble metals : gold (Au), silver (Ag), platinum (Pt), rhodium (Rh) and palladium (Pd) … all precious metals .
Of them, rhodium and palladium could have been “coinage”, but they were only discovered in the early nineteenth century, so the ancient civilizations did not know them.
Those civilizations could have chosen platinum, but they would have needed to be able to produce extremely high temperatures: the melting point of platinum is 1,768º centigrade.
So we have silver and gold left.
Although it has been used as a currency, the problem with silver is that it blackens: it reacts with small amounts of sulfur in the air.
In addition, gold is more rare.
And it has another quality that makes it the preferred excellence among all elements of the periodic table: e l gold is gold .
All other metals in the periodic table are silver, except copper, which turns green when exposed to humid air.
That makes gold very distinctive.
“That’s the other secret to the success of gold as a currency,” says Sella. ” Gold is incredibly beautiful .”
That is why during thousands of years of experiments, so many civilizations consistently chose gold -from the Latin aurum meaning “bright dawn” -as the element to which they would assign a value that everyone would accept.