A gold nugget a private collector found decades ago in Venezuela has now been proven to be the world’s largest single gold crystal, according to researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S. The value is estimated at $1.5 million, and is rare because most gold is composed of multiple crystals. Single crystallinity references its entirely natural origin, which increases its value.
The gold crystal weighs 217.78 grams and the mass is estimated as the equivalent to the size of a golf ball.
A Miami University geology professor, John Rakovan used a neutron scanner at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to peer inside the gold crystal. He said of the experience, ‘The structure or atomic arrangement of gold crystals of this size has never been studied before, and we have a unique opportunity to do so.”
The owner of the crystal is an anonymous North Carolinian treasure hunter who formerly resided in Venezuela for several decades. He asked Rakovan to analyze and officially assess the gold nugget’s value. Rakovan and colleagues can authenticate valuable gemstones in exchange for the opportunity to examine and analyze them for academic and research purposes.
The anonymous owner had submitted the gold crystal to be sold at an auction in 2006, but did not sell because it had not yet been authenticated as a single gold crystal. He later sought out Rakovan to assess it.
The results may also reveal the formation background of the crystal and the accompanying two other crystals that the collector submitted for analysis, Scientists discovered that the three crystals are in nearly perfect form, and were altered slightly after formation when flowing through the sediments in an ancient stream.
Rakovan’s hypothesis is based on an external multi-crystallization surrounding a single crystal, which likely arose from weathering and erosion. The instrument at the Los Alamos National Laboratory uses neutron diffractometry, that can reveal the interior of materials multiple centimeters in depth. Other forms of similar technology that analyze the inner workings of matter are x-rays.
Neutron diffraction sends a warm or cold neutron beam through a material that results in a reading of activity complementary to the composition of its composition, which identifies its structure.
The technology is more accurate in the analysis and differentiation of materials compared with x-ray technology because an x-ray reads the electrons surrounding an atom. A radiation that looks at the neutron diffraction will reach the interior of an atom, which results in a more accurate reading according to chemical composition.
The geology professor had also used the diffraction technology at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the past to study a collection of numerous gold crystals in 2006.
The large single gold crystal is exceedingly rare, according to Rakovan. Most gold nuggets on the valuable materials market are composed of more than one gold crystal combined by man-made manipulation. The neutron technology was able to identify that the golf-ball sized gold crystal is naturally formed and authentic.