When you hear the word 'gold' you most likely imagine subterranean caves filled with golden nuggets, bank safes chock-a-block with gold bars, or golden rings adorning people's nimble fingers.
Now you can add another image to your imagination, as a group of researchers from the University of Leeds in the U.K. has created a sheet of gold so thin, it's one million times smaller than the size of a human fingernail.
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The gold nanosheet, or nanoseaweed as its aptly named after its greenish tint, is just two atoms thick.
The findings of the research were published in Advanced Science on Tuesday.
What's the point of having it so thin?
These 2D golden nanosheets could prove useful for medical devices, in the electronics industry, and as a catalyst for speeding up chemical reactions.
As a catalyst, extremely thin gold has proven to be 10 times more efficient than what's currently being used: gold nanoparticles.
What the team of scientists also believe is that it could be useful as a basis for artificial enzymes and used in point-of-care medical tests or for purifying water.
Lead author of the paper, Dr. Sunjie Ye, from the Leeds Molecular and Nanoscale Physics Group, and the Leeds Institute of Medical Research, said "Not only does it open up the possibility that gold can be used more efficiently in existing technologies, it is providing a route which would allow material scientists to develop other 2D metals."
The gold nanosheet appears green and seaweed-like
Due to its minuscule dimension, the nanosheet appears green, and given its shape, it looks like seaweed. Thus the name gold nanoseaweed was born.
By seeing close up images of the nanosheets, noticeable lattices of the gold atoms are bound together.
Professor Stephen Evans, head of the Leeds' Molecular and Nanoscale Research Group and who oversaw the research led by Ye, said "Gold is a highly effective catalyst. Because the nanosheets are so thin, just about every gold atom plays a part in the catalysis. It means the process is highly efficient."
Evans continued: "I think with 2D gold we have got some very definite ideas about where it could be used, particularly in catalytic reactions and enzymatic reactions. We know it will be more effective than existing technologies."
However physically small the gold nanosheet may be, it has some big and promising uses.