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UConn, United Technologies Develop Gold Substitutes

Gold Bars (Brian Giesen/Flickr)Researchers at University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs, partnering with engineers from the United Technologies Corporation (UTC) Research Center in East Hartford, Connecticut, have modeled and developed new classes of alloy materials for electronic devices that can reduce reliance on costly gold and other precious metals.

With the price of gold hovering around $1,370 per ounce (as of 14 October 2010), manufacturers like UTC are looking for alternatives to costly metals widely used in electronics, including gold, platinum, rhodium, palladium, and silver. These metals provide excellent conductivity as well as resistance to oxidation and corrosion. But their increasingly high cost makes finding less expensive but equally effective alternatives an important aim.

Mark Aindow and S. Pamir Alpay, UConn professors of materials science and engineering, and Joseph Mantese, a fellow at the UTC Research Center, have developed new classes of materials that behave much like gold and its counterparts when exposed to the oxidizing environments that degrade traditional base metals.

The team investigated inexpensive metals such as nickel, copper, and iron.  Based on their research, they laid out the theory and demonstrated experimentally the methodology for improving the electrical contact resistance, which led to synthesized versions of various alloys of these base metals.  Their work demonstrated an improvement in contact resistance of up to one-million-fold over that for pure base metals, so that base metal contacts can now be prepared with contact properties near those of pure gold.

The research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Army Research Office, and appears in the appears online in the October 12th issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters (paid subscription required).

Photo: Brian Giesen/Flickr

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