A Real McDuck Money Bin

In October, 2013, protesters in Switzerland poured eight million coins in the national square in Berne, to advocate for a minimum living guaranteed wage for all Swiss citizens.

Aside from playing with millions of coins in the streets, and pushing them around with brooms, those protesters are now selling all the coins — complete with a genuine Swiss Bank vault, to any interested party, effectively giving everyone the Scrooge McDuck Money Bin experience, albeit on a smaller scale.  The face value of the coins is about 400,000 Swissbucks, so you’ve got at least that much guaranteed value in it — but if you buy the safe, add another couple hundred thousand Swiss francs worth of nickels, and make a fortune renting it out to people who want to dive into a money bin…wait, I guess that might not be such a good idea.

Why is Gold Gold?

Now that’s a lotta gold!  Gold, copper, and silver are pretty close on the periodic table — in fact, nearly all our precious metals, including nickel and platinum, fit into the furthest right two columns of the transition metals.   That gives them all very similar chemical properties, but one thing it doesn’t really explain is color.

Surprisingly, all of those metals are highly reflective, but don’t really have a color unless you factor in relativistic physics.   Yes, everyone has loved gold for its color since ancient times, but it wasn’t until Einstein arrived that we can explain its two most valuable characteristics.

Atoms have electrons zooming around the nucleus, and they’re a big factor in how the periodic table is arranged.   All of those elements at the right end of the transition metals should have very similar qualities of shininess, conductivity, malleability — which is true.

For copper and gold, however, their electrons are subject to relativistic forces that change their atomic size, making them a filter for light, rather than having a particular color themselves.  Both would be shiny and silver if not for this filtering, and gold’s gold color is also tied to its lack of tarnishing, preventing it from being as reactive as copper and silver to oxidation and other reactions. So, the next time you see a gold coin, marvel at the universal forces that make it look the way it does!