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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.

READ MORE | Blood Diamonds To Blockchain Diamonds?

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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Controlling The Ledger: The World’s Largest Financial Firms Embrace Blockchain

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Ask nearly any leading banker or financial executive to go on the record about blockchain, and you are liable to hear crickets. After all, it’s an industry built on trust and stability and crypto’s recent legacy of volatility and even fraud has tainted the topic.

It’s ironic because, behind the scenes, few industries are eagerly working on blockchain projects as feverishly as financial services firms are. Bank of America, for example, has filed nearly 60 blockchain patents. Yet it refused to speak to Forbes about its dive into distributed ledger tech. JPMorgan’s CEO Dimon famously threatened to fire any employee caught trading bitcoin. Today it is developing its own digital token.

The world’s largest, most centralized and most powerful institutions are now embracing the technology designed to unseat them because they realize that at its, core blockchain is just lines of code that simplify accounting and record keeping. For hundreds of years, bankers have exhibited mastery in ledger keeping and they have no intention of giving that up.

Our inaugural Blockchain 50 list is dominated by financial firms. From BNP Paribas and Citigroup to Nasdaq to Mastercard and Visa, the biggest names in global money are making strides in blockchain testing and adoption.

They’re using the technology to speed up settlement times and interbank payments, simplify processes that still rely on paper and fax machines, and improve security measures with the goal of both saving time and money now and creating new ways to make a profit in the future.

Fidelity, which now has 100 employees devoted to digital assets, has launched a digital asset custody service for institutional investors and is already building a trading platform for purchasing crypto. PNC bank is using Ripple’s blockchain software to process international payments.

Santander is already collecting revenue from One Pay FX, a blockchain-based foreign exchange service that is also built on Ripple technology. Dutch banking giant ING’s dedicated blockchain team that has launched 8 pilots since 2016, and alongside Credit Suisse completed the first legally enforceable securities swap on a blockchain last year.

Even banks that didn’t make our list, like the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of America, are testing the waters. RBC has conducted 8 live pilots, and Bank of America has filed the most blockchain patents of any company in the industry.

Notably, these early first forays into the blockchain space have fostered something unexpected among these major competitors: collaboration, especially through industry efforts like Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. “I remember how different people from different institutions tried to start talking about the common work in this moment,” says BBVA’s Carlos Kuchkovsky, CTO of new digital business, of the early days of those groups. “That’s how we want to collaborate now, to create common new rails.”

Citibank has partnered with Barclays to launch a blockchain app store. ING and BNP Paribas are just two of several big banks that partnered to create komgo, a blockchain trade commodity network, and UBS has partnered with BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, and Santander to create a way to exchange digital cash.

Of course, these banks know that there is a long road ahead when it comes to integrating blockchain into their daily processes. Blockchain is not a catch-all solution, and there are sure to be new hurdles ahead, but some banks say they are already reaping the rewards. “You already have tangible benefits but this still is not the end state,” says ING’s program director of distributed ledger technology Mariana Gomez de la Villa of a recent ING pilot. “The ecosystem is growing.”

-Sarah Hansen; Forbes Staff

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Lab-grown Diamonds: Never Mined, It’s Man-Made

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Turns out there is literally no difference between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds, well, apart from the price.


Ever wondered what the difference between lab-produced diamonds and natural diamonds was? Well, nothing. They are exactly the same.

As with most things of value, a great deal of information has been produced over the years about the price of diamonds. In short, many believe the real price of diamonds is far lower than what ‘big business’ would have us believe and that it is driven up by our insatiable hunger and the social importance we place on the stones.

In line with this, there is a widely-held belief that they are not rare and the market is being deliberately controlled to create the façade that they are difficult to produce. Therefore, their price is dictated by the fact that they symbolize the most enduring of all human emotions – love.

 With that out of the way, in recent times, society has developed a pragmatic relationship with diamonds, rather than a romantic one that has long sustained the industry.

It might be that we live in the era of instant gratification or that we have stopped romanticising the idea of waiting millions of years for the precious stone, but more people have embraced the idea of purchasing lab-grown diamonds.

READ MORE | From Medicine To Nanotechnology: How Gold Quietly Shapes Our World

Unlike an imitation gem like cubic zirconia, it has the same physical characteristics and chemical components as a natural diamond but production time is much shorter, enabling producers to create it in a matter of weeks.

Lab-grown diamonds producer Ross Reid offers FORBES AFRICA a very sobering perspective with the following analogy to describe man-made diamonds.

“If a couple can’t fall pregnant using conventional methods, they do IVF where the baby’s origin of life is manmade. Is that not a real baby when it’s born?”

The room falls silent as all contemplate this question.

“So by that logic, it is a real diamond,” Reid states emphatically.

Reid is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Inception Diamonds, One of South Africa’s first Diamond companies to offer lab-grown diamonds and fine jewelry.

The world’s leading diamond producer, De Beers, however, has a different perspective.

“We view natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds as very different products as they have completely different production processes. Natural diamonds are created in the earth, under intense heat and pressure over billions of years. Each diamond is rare, finite and unique,” says Bianca Ruakere, a De Beers Group spokesperson.


De Beers Lightbox range. Picture: De Beers

Reid says he recognizes the market potential for global growth in being able to offer conflict-free, environmentally-friendly lab-grown diamonds, especially to the millennial market.

“With the creation of laboratory-grown diamonds, it allows you to offer the consumer the same thing optically, physically, and chemically at a big discount. So you can have the same beauty, the same hardness, the same look and the same feel for less money,” Reid says.

Large diamond producers have also recognized the same potential.

De Beers Group has been producing synthetic diamonds for industrial purposes for more than 50 years. “Last year, we launched Lightbox in the United States to market a range of fun, fashion jewelry using lab-grown diamonds. They are accessibly priced, and a distinct product offering compared with natural diamonds,” Ruakere says.

 Price is not the only reason that encourages the market to opt for lab-grown diamonds. They are also other ethical factors such as having a guarantee that the rock on your finger is conflict-free.

 Shogan Naidoo, who proposed to his fiancé, Preba Iyavoo, on Valentine’s Day at the popular independent cinema house, The Bioscope, did so with a healthy bank balance and clean conscience.

They were traditionally engaged in July last year, so by the time the ring engagement happened, Iyavoo was caught completely off-guard and was pleasantly surprised.

“Shogan is the most endearing person, but he’s not romantic in the slightest,” says a giddy Iyavoo, who recalls the proposal that happened in a filled theater, with a movie Naidoo had created just for her.

The couple are besotted with their lab-grown diamond. Naidoo says after doing exhaustive research to find the perfect ring to propose with, all conventional options had failed him.

READ MORE | Blood Diamonds To Blockchain Diamonds?

 He says his final ring choice far exceeded his expectations in price and design. Naidoo explains that Iyavoo has a very specific preference and that he was not willing to compromise in getting her the perfect ring but the one he initially wanted was in the range of R80,000 ($5,500).

  “We were planning a wedding and we’d just bought a house,” he says. The exorbitant cost of retail rings led him to search out of the box, and eventually the box returned with the perfect gem.

 The couple who lead a very environmentally-conscious lifestyle, say they are especially proud to be the custodians of this ring because they are guaranteed it’s conflict-free and no miners were exploited.

 Reid says he has to grapple with a great deal of scepticism because many are not ready to fully embrace the idea of lab-grown diamonds despite their advantages.

“The Federal Trade Commission has changed the definition of a diamond. It does not need to come from the ground.

“We have opened up the market for people to be able to afford beautiful pieces without compromising on quality,” Reid says.

Change is inevitable and with that, there will always be those resistant to it. But one thing is for sure, society’s relationship with diamonds are changing.

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Bezos By Far: The 5 Largest Billionaire Divorces In History

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Jeff Bezos announced on Thursday that he will give a 4% stake in Amazon—currently worth more than $35 billion—to his wife, MacKenzie, as part of their pending divorce, making it by far the largest divorce settlement in history. In January, soon after the couple announced their separation, Forbes assembled a list of the largest, strangest and most notable billionaire disunions on record—at least where we could follow the money. In some cases, like the split between Google’s Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, we don’t know the size of the settlement because divorce filings were sealed.

Below are five of the largest settlements, in descending order.

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos To Give MacKenzie 25% Of His Amazon Stake, Worth Tens Of Billions, In Divorce

1) Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos – At least $35 billion.

The couple met while both were working at hedge fund D.E. Shaw in New York. After they moved to Seattle, MacKenzie helped Jeff get Amazon off the ground. On April 4, they announced the terms of their divorce, which will likely become official over the summer: she will receive about 4% of Amazon’s outstanding shares—now worth over $35 billion. Jeff will hold on to all of rocket company Blue Origin and The Washington Post. Once the divorce is finalized, MacKenzie will likely be the world’s third-richest woman.

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos Says National Enquirer Owner Tried To Blackmail Him

2) Bill and Sue Gross – $1.3 billion

The Grosses’ messy split minted a new billionaire and dragged down another. Sue filed for divorce in 2016 from her husband, the founder of asset-manager Pimco, and she walked away a year later with a $1.3 billion fortune. That haul included a $36 million Laguna Beach house and “Le Repos,” a contested 1932 Picasso painting that she later sold for $35 million. While Bill originally tried to hang on to one of their three pet cats, Sue eventually got custody of all of them. Bill lost his spot on The Forbes 400 in 2018 following 14 consecutive years on the list. Both now run their own charitable vehicles.

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos, World’s Richest Person, Announces Divorce After 25 Years Of Marriage

3) Steve and Elaine Wynn – $850 million

The cofounders of casino giant Wynn Resorts divorced (for the second time) in 2010. That settlement dictated that Elaine, a Wynn Resorts board member since 2002, receive 11 million shares, then worth an estimated $795 million. Steve also sold around $114 million in stock that year—some, if not all, went to Elaine as part of the deal. She then sued Wynn Resorts in 2012 to sell part of her 9% stake and was kicked off the board three years later amid an ugly proxy battle.

After Steve stepped down as CEO and chairman in February 2018 amid sexual harassment allegations that he has denied, he sold all his shares. Elaine, now worth $2 billion, is Wynn Resorts’ largest shareholder.

READ MORE | The 10 Most Notable New Billionaires Of 2019

4) Harold Hamm and Sue Ann Arnall – $975 million

After three years of bitter court proceedings, oil tycoon Harold in 2015 tried to finally end his 26-year marriage with Sue Ann (no prenup) by writing her a check in the amount of $974,790,317.77 from his Morgan Stanley account. She deposited it, but then changed her mind, decided she wanted more and filed an appeal seeking a bigger share of the $13.7 billion fortune tied to Hamm’s 75% ownership in publicly traded Continental Resources. In April 2015 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ended the saga, granting Harold’s motion to dismiss her appeal, reasoning from precedent that Sue Ann had agreed to the settlement by signing and depositing the check. Sue Ann subsequently funded a political action committee that succeeded in its effort to unseat the judge who presided over the divorce.

READ MORE | More Than A Dozen European Billionaires—Linked To BMW, L’Oréal, Bosch—Have Families With Past Nazi Ties

5) Roy E. and Patricia Disney – $600 million

Roy and his wife filed for divorce in 2007 at the ages of 77 and 72, respectively, after 52 years of marriage. Roy, a nephew of Walt Disney, was worth approximately $1.3 billion at the time. Previously a Forbes 400 mainstay, he lost nearly half of his fortune in the split and was dropped from the list. In 2008, he married writer and producer Leslie DeMeuse. He died a year later; Patricia followed in 2012. A family foundation with assets of $122 million (as of 2016) bearing both of their names supports environmental and economic causes.

Compiled by Madeline Berg, Deniz Cam, Kathleen Chaykowski, Lauren Debter, Kerry A. Dolan, Alex Fang, Luisa Kroll, Chloe Sorvino and Jennifer Wang.

– Noah Kirsch; Forbes Staff

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