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From Medicine To Nanotechnology: How Gold Quietly Shapes Our World

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The periodic table of chemical elements turns 150 this year. The anniversary is a chance to shine a light on particular elements – some of which seem ubiquitous but which ordinary people beyond the world of chemistry probably don’t know much about.

One of these is gold, which was the subject of my postgraduate degrees in chemistry, and which I have been studying for almost 30 years. In chemistry, gold can be considered a late starter when compared to most other metals. It was always considered to be chemically “inert” – but in recent decades it has flourished and a variety of interesting applications have emerged.

A long, curious history

Gold takes its name from the Latin word aurum (“yellow”). It’s an element with a long but rather mysterious history. For instance, it’s one of 12 confirmed elements on the periodic table whose discoverer is unknown. The others are carbon, sulfur, copper, silver, iron, tin, antimony, mercury, lead, zinc and bismuth.

Though we’re not sure who discovered it, there’s evidence to suggest it was known to the ancient Egyptians as far back as 3000 BC. Historically, its primary use was for jewellery; this is still the case today, it’s also used in mint coins. Gold is also found in ancient and modern art: it’s used to prepare ruby or purple pigment, or as gold leaf.

READ MORE | Gold Back on Upward Path As Global Growth Slows

South Africa was once the top gold-producing country by far: it mined over 1,000 tonnes in 1970 alone. Its annual output has steadily fallen since then – the top three gold producing countries in 2017 were China, Australia and Russia, with a combined output of almost 1000 tonnes. South Africa has dropped to 8th position, even surpassed by Peru and Indonesia.

But gold’s uses and its chemical properties extend into many other areas beyond jewels and minted coins. From pharmaceutical research to nanotechnology, this ancient element is being used to drive new technologies that are pushing the world into the future.

Why and how it’s useful

Of the 118 confirmed elements in the periodic table, nine are naturally occurring elements with radioactive isotopes that are used in so-called nuclear medicine. Gold is not radioactive, but is nevertheless very useful in medicine in the form of gold-containing drugs.

There are two classes of gold drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. One is injectable gold thiolates – molecules with a sulfur atom at one end, and a chemical chain of virtually any description attached to them – found in drugs such as Myocrisin, Solganol and Allocrysin. The other is an oral complex called Auranofin.

READ MORE | South Africa’s Precious Metal Mining Industry Is On Shaky Ground

Gold is also increasingly being used in nanotechnology. A nanomaterial is generally considered a material where any of its three dimensions is 100 nanometres (nm) or less. Nanotechnology is useful because it is not restricted to a particular material – any material could in principle be made into a nanomaterial – but rather a particular property: the property of size.

For example, gold in its bulk form has a distinct yellow colour. But as it is broken up into very small pieces it starts to change colour, through a range of red and purple, depending on the relative size of the gold nanoparticles. Such nanoparticles could be used in a variety of applications, for example in the biomedical or optical-electronic fields.

Another exciting advancement for gold in nanotechnology was the discovery in 1983 that a clean gold surface dipped into a solution containing a thiolate could form self-assembled monolayers. These monolayers modify the surface of gold in very innovative ways. Research into surface modification is important because the surface of anything can show very different properties than the bulk (that is, the inside) of the same material.

More to come

Gold nanoparticles have also proven to be an effective catalyst. A catalyst is a material that increases the rate of a chemical reaction and so reduces the amount of energy required without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. This is important because catalysis lies at the heart of many manufactured goods we use today. For example, a catalyst turns propylene into propylene oxide, which is the first step in making antifreeze.

Two discoveries in the 1980s made scientists look at gold catalysis differently. Masatake Haruta, in Osaka, Japan, made mixed oxides containing gold – and discovered the material was remarkably active to catalyse the oxidation of toxic carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Today, this catalyst is found in vehicle exhausts.

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At the same time Graham Hutchings, who was working in industry in Johannesburg, South Africa, discovered a gold catalyst that would work best for acetylene hydrochlorination. This process is central to PVC plastic, which is used in virtually all plumbing production. Until then, the industrial catalyst for this process was using environmentally unfriendly mercuric chloride material.

Many applications

In my opinion, gold has many more uses that haven’t yet been discovered. There is much more to come in the world of gold research.

There will, in the next few years, be new developments in how the element is used in, amongst others, medicine, nanotechnology and catalysis. It will also find new applications in relativistic quantum chemistry (combining relativistic mechanics with quantum chemistry), surface science (the physics and chemistry of surfaces and how they interact), luminescence and photophysics – and more.

Werner van Zyl; Associate Professor of Chemistry, Lecturer in sustainable biomass, energy and water systems, University of KwaZulu-Natal

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Wealth

Jeff Bezos Is No Longer The Richest Person In The World After Amazon Stock Plunges

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Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos lost his title as the richest man in the world during after-hours trading on Thursday, after his ecommerce behemoth reported lackluster third-quarter earnings. 

Amazon shares fell 7% in after-hours trading, knocking Bezos’ fortune down to $103.9 billion. That puts him at number two among the world’s richest. The new number one: Microsoft cofounder and fellow Washington state resident Bill Gates, who is worth $105.7 billion. 

Bezos became the richest man in the world in 2018 and the first centibillionaire to ever appear on the The Forbes 400 that year with a net worth of $160 billion, ending Gates’ 24-year run as number one. 

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But the Amazon chief executive’s net worth drop isn’t entirely due to the decline in Amazon shares. Bezos transferred a quarter of his Amazon stake to his ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos as part of their divorce settlement, which was finalized earlier this year. MacKenzie Bezos is worth $32.7 billion, and among the top twenty wealthiest people in the world. 

On Thursday afternoon, Amazon reported a 26% drop in net income in its third quarter, its first profit decline since 2017.  In after-hours trading, Amazon dropped nearly 9% to $1,624 per share in the 20 minutes after the market closed. It has since rebounded slightly, hovering at $1,657 per share at 7:30 p.m. ET

The company said it is investing heavily in logistics and delivery infrastructure, with the goal of making one-day shipping the norm for Amazon Prime members.

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos Sells About $1.8 Billion Worth Of Amazon Shares In Three Days

The company disclosed during its second quarter earnings call in July that it had spent “a little bit” more than the estimated $800 million that it has previously said it would invest in one-day shipping infrastructure.

The company declined to disclose how much it had spent on one-day shipping in the third quarter. But chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky did disclose Thursday that the company plans to spend $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter, presumably to finance the one-day shipping initiative. 

Gates, meanwhile, has been out of Microsoft since 2014 when he stepped down as chairman of the storied company, though he remains a board member. He has sold or given away the majority of his Microsoft stake and diversified his wealth over time. He is now the co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private charitable foundation in the world. 

Bill Gates debuted on Forbes’ first ever billionaire list in 1987 with a net worth of $1.25 billion. Bezos first joined The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 1998, one year after Amazon went public, with a net worth of $1.6 billion. 

-Angel Au-Yeung; Forbes

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These Are The Biggest Givers On The Forbes 400

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This has been a year of record-setting in billionaire philanthropy. In September, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of POM Wonderful and Fiji Water, pledged $750 million to the California Institute of Technology for environmental sustainability research.

In June, Blackstone cofounder Stephen Schwarzman donated $189 million to the University of Oxford—the largest single gift to the school since the Renaissance—to fund its work on humanities. The same month, Broadcom billionaire Henry Samueli pledged $100 million to UCLA’s engineering school, the largest gift ever to the department. 

Forbes tracks gifts and pledges like these as part of our ongoing coverage of charitable giving by the country’s richest people.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

For the second year in a row, Forbes tracked the philanthropic giving of the richest 400 individuals in the U.S. and gave each member of The Forbes 400 list a philanthropy score. The score ranged from 1 to 5,  with 5 being the most philanthropic. List members for whom we could find no charitable giving information received an N.A. (not available).

Philanthropy Forbes 400
FORBES

Though the number of the biggest givers—those who scored a 5—stayed flat in 2019, those who received scores of 4 and 3 increased compared with a year ago.

The changes reflect two things: The country’s richest have gotten somewhat more generous, and Forbes had more information to work with this year. Some billionaires were willing to share information on charitable giving for the 2019 list who didn’t in 2018. As a result, four dozen people got higher scores this year than a year ago. 

This year, Warren Buffett led the list of top givers with $38.8 billion in lifetime giving, which is 32% of his net worth, and earned the top score of 5.

He was followed by last year’s biggest giver, Bill Gates, who has donated $38.5 billion so far. Two people who scored a 5 last year—Paul Allen and David Koch—passed away.

READ MORE: Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing

Billionaires like DreamWorks Pictures founder David Geffen and WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton moved up to the top score after each scored a 4 last year. According to the latest tax filings, Geffen gave $38 million to his foundation in 2017, which brought his lifetime giving to about $1 billion.

Acton and his wife Tegan, on the other hand, have been expanding their philanthropic network, Wildcard Giving, which they founded in 2014 after Acton sold WhatsApp to Facebook. The couple has given away more than $1 billion to charitable causes.

2019 Forbes 400 Giving
FORBES

Forty-one billionaires, including Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings and software billionaire Philip “Terry” Ragon, got higher scores this year than last year. Some, like Stephen Schwarzman, earned a higher score thanks to giving in the past year.

Others scored higher because we were able to find more information about their lifetime giving, through new public documents or details provided to us by Forbes 400 members or their spokespeople. In September, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that B.

Wayne Hughes, cofounder of self-storage behemoth Public Storage, had anonymously donated about $400 million to the University of Southern California in his lifetime. Hughes, who scored a 2 last year, jumped up to a 4.

Private equity tycoon Robert F. Smith’s pledge in May to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College generated lots of headlines but did not end up changing his score because the gift wasn’t big enough to move him up a notch. In many cases, fortunes grew faster than lifetime philanthropic giving. 

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To come up with the information on which we based our score, Forbes reporters looked at tax filings for charitable foundations, annual statements, SEC filings and news about new gifts. When possible, we interviewed Forbes 400 members and executives from their foundations. Some Forbes 400 members said they have chosen to donate anonymously, citing religious or privacy concerns. 

Our score is based on total lifetime giving and what percent of their fortune members had given away. We weighted these two factors equally. Some individuals were then bumped up or down based on several other factors, including whether they had signed the Giving Pledge, whether they had pledged significant donations, how personally involved they were in their charitable giving, and how quickly and effectively their private foundations distributed dollars. We didn’t count pledges or announced gifts that have yet to be paid out, but we took commitment to philanthropy—or lack thereof—into account.

Forbes has been tracking the wealth of the richest Americans since 1982. “Some of [the members] told us to drop dead,” James Michaels, veteran editor of Forbes, told the New York Times in a 1982 story about the list’s debut. “They said they wanted no part of it, that they’d sue us.

This happens in reporting.” At times, our reporting on philanthropic giving received a similar response. “The new philanthropy ranking is fundamentally flawed, in that it is biased in favor of those who make their gifts widely known, and against donors who choose to make their charitable contributions anonymously,” one current Forbes 400 member (who did not wish to be named) wrote to us last year.

-Deniz Çam; Forbes

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Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

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Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.


In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.

On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.

In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.

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 “I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra. 

Beyond economics.

That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.

The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.

The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”

He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.

“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”

Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.

It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.

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But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”

And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.

The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

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Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.

“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”

Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.

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