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Resources: Mine, all mine!

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Throughout history, gold has been prized around the world and eagerly sought. But where does it come from, and where does it all go? By Neil Savage.

Where does gold come from?

World gold production 2010

Figure 1
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MAP & TOP 10 PRODUCERS: US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY/$89T NUMBER, & MINING VS. RECYCLING: THOMSON REUTERS GFMS

Gold in perspective

Gold production pales in comparison to that of other technologically important minerals

Credit: USGS MINERAL COMMODITIES SUMMARY 2012

The physics of gold

Electrons orbit the nucleus at half the speed of light, relativistically shrinking the highest-energy (6s) orbital in a way that accounts for gold’s chemical stability and hue.

Worldwide demand for gold in 2011

Gold is mostly required for jewellery, technology and money.

Credit: WORLD GOLD COUNCIL

Precious commodity

The price of gold, long set by governments, remained steady from the early eighteenth century well into the twentieth century

Credit: NATIONAL MINING ASSOCIATION

Golden milestones

Key moments in the use of the precious metal in science and technology

Credit: IMAGES: ETRUSCAN DENTURES: WELLCOME TRUST/SCIENCE & SOCIETY PICTURE LIBRARY/BRUGNATELLI: WELLCOME LIBRARY, LONDON/GOLD RUSH: STOCK MONTAGE/GETTY IMAGES/MACARTHUR CYANIDE PROCESS: BALLIOL COLLEGE, OXFORD/KILBY MICROCHIP: COURTESY OF TEXAS INSTRUMENTS/CATALYSIS: CARDIFF UNIVERSITY/STENT: ©COURTESY: BOSTON SCIENTIFIC/VERIGENE NANOPARTICLE: VERIGENE.

Change history

  • 18 March 2013

    The map "Where does gold come from?" originally presented world gold production figures in kilograms but with the label of tonnes. Values in tonnes are now correct.

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Savage, N. Resources: Mine, all mine!. Nature 495, S2–S3 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/495S2a

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