Developments to Watch
THAR'S GOLD IN THEM THAR COMPUTER CHIPS
Alchemists of old sought to turn lead into gold. That didn't work, but Japanese scientists think silicon chips can be mined for the precious metal. So much gold is used to make computer parts that computers typically contain more of the metal per ounce than most gold ores.
The method, devised by the Tohoku National Industrial Research Institute in Sendai, is magically simple. First, immerse such components as integrated circuits and gold-plated connectors in an acid. Then, run the acid solution over polymer beads impregnated with a special reagent that grabs onto gold ions, ignoring other materials. Finally, dissolve the plastic in an organic solvent, and the gold can be siphoned off. The Tohoku researchers have already tested the technique by retrieving gold from the effluent of an industrial gold-plating process. Next, they hope to mine nuggets from a high-tech junkyard.EDITED BY OTIS PORT