New alloys mean all that glitters need not be gold for electronic applications


October 14, 2010

Gold-plated contacts in electronic devices could be about to lose their sheen thanks to the development of alloys with gold-like properties (Image: Windell Oskay)

Gold-plated contacts in electronic devices could be about to lose their sheen thanks to the development of alloys with gold-like properties (Image: Windell Oskay)

Gold has long been seen as a financial safe haven in times of economic uncertainty. This don’t look like changing any time soon with the price of gold reaching a record high of US$1377.60 an ounce this week on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. That might be good news for gold miners but not so good for the manufacturers of electronic devices that are reliant on not only gold, but also other precious metals. In some modern day alchemy, researchers have modeled and developed new classes of alloy materials that boast the properties that makes gold so attractive for electronic applications.

The costly noble metals, including gold, platinum, rhodium, palladium and silver, are widely used in electronic applications due to their combination of excellent conductivity paired with resistance to oxidation and corrosion. Looking to find less costly but equally durable and effective alternatives, researchers at the University of Connecticut have developed new classes of materials that behave much like gold and its counterparts when exposed to the oxidizing environments that degrade traditional base metals.

The research team investigated nickel, copper and iron – all inexpensive materials the team felt may offer promise. Using a combination of theoretical analysis to select the appropriate ingredients, and materials engineering at the atomic level, the team was able to create designer materials.

Using inexpensive base metals, the researchers say they were able to synthesize various alloys and achieve higher conductivity native oxide scales through one of three processes: doping to enhance carrier concentration, inducing mixed oxidation states to give electron/polaron hopping, and/or phase separation for conducting pathways.

The University of Connecticut researchers claim their work has demonstrated an improvement in contact resistance of up to one-million-fold over that for pure base metals, so that base metal contacts can now be prepared with contact properties near those of pure gold.

Their research appears online in the October 12th issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Isn\'t gold constantly reaching record highs?

Carrie Montgomery

yes gold is constantly reaching new highs because the federal reserve which is a multinational central bank that does not have anything to do with the federal government (is as federal as federal express) except illegally and unconstitutionally is in charge of printing of our money. So in reality gold is worth about as much as it ever has historically but our money is becoming worthless because they are constantly inflating our currency by printing more and more and more and calling it quantitative easing instead of counterfeiting. Since the federal reserve was was created in 1917 our currency has inflated by 95% and probably higher now that figure was as of a couple of years ago.


I wonder is these new alloys are more or less susceptible to the \"whiskering\" effect seen since the removal of lead from solder alloys.

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