Why is gold called a 'heavy' metal despite being soft?

Wednesday 22nd July 2009
Submitted by Len Fisher
Tony Moorhouse, Sutton

Gold is called a heavy metal because of its high density, which comes from the fact that each of its atoms is individually very heavy. The density of tungsten is almost identical, but tungsten is hard and brittle because its atoms are tightly linked and it is difficult to force them past each other. In contrast, gold atoms slide past each other relatively easily, which makes the metal soft and malleable. Gold is so soft, in fact, that one gram of it can be beaten into a sheet covering nearly a square metre. Such sheets are used in the process of 'gilding'.

Why does my car windscreen defrost despite the wind chill of travelling at speed?
previous qanda Article
What's the sharpest object ever created?
next qanda Article
Q&A Tabs

Phlegm is the mucous secretion of the respiratory passages. The cilia cells that line these passages are continually driving the phlegm upward to the throat, where it triggers the swallow reflex...

While a coin toss is regarded as random, it spins in a predictable way. In 2008, a team from the Technical University of Łódź, Poland, analysed the mechanics of a coin tumbling in the air. The...

Astronomer Fred Hoyle was the first to point out that if you could drive a car upwards at 95km/h (60mph), it would only take about an hour to get into space. To get to the Moon would take a little...

Lobsters and other shellfish have harmful bacteria naturally present in their flesh. Once the lobster is dead, these bacteria can rapidly multiply and release toxins that may not be destroyed by...

Probably a bit like giraffes. We can’t be sure because reproductive organs don’t fossilise, and no fossils of dinosaurs caught in the act have ever been found. We don’t even know...

All female mammals have a clitoris, the sole purpose of which is to react to sexual stimulation, and presumably this stimulation has evolved to be pleasurable for most species. But establishing...

To create a sound, we have to set matter - whether it's a gas like air, a liquid or even a solid material - in regular motion, creating a wave of specific frequencies, which we hear as a sound of...

Mirrors don’t reverse left and right either – that’s just our interpretation of what happens. Your reflection in the mirror is actually reversed front to back – if you have...

Discovered by an American student named Gary Flandro in the mid-1960s, the slingshot manoeuvre usually involves spacecraft briefly 'coat-tailing' a planet orbiting the Sun, extracting some of the...

The ice disappears because the wind blows away water molecules that have evaporated or 'sublimed' from the ice, so the ice slowly shrinks in size. The molecules that escape are those with the...