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Using cyanide to react with the gold allows them to gradually reduce 40,000-gallon tanks of pulverized sludge to this: three trays full of mud? This is the first time an outsider has been allowed to pour gold. I'm not sure they entirely know what they are doing, but they are going to let me pour the gold into a gold bar mold. They'll have to throw it away or just let me take it home in my luggage. Once he removes the aluminum and joins the two halves, a bell-shaped space remains on the inside, ready to accept the molten bronze. That's a, that's a mixture, actually, of 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin. A blow causes the atoms to vibrate, but the tin prevents them from moving too far out of position.

Gold has been sought since ancient times, yet all the gold ever mined would fit into a single cube about 60 feet on a side. It was a sacred material to ancient people, and it's never lost its luster. Only a few natural elements have greater density than gold: rhenium, platinum, iridium and osmium.

Like all elements, gold is an atom that gets its identity from tiny particles: positively charged protons in the nucleus, balanced by negatively charged electrons all around, plus neutrons, which have no charge at all. It's virtually indestructible, yet also soft and malleable.

Muller's lab has successfully captured many other images of atoms in gold and computer chips, oxygen, powerful magnets and even glass.

But, even so, they've barely scratched the surface, because they can discern only the outermost boundaries around atoms. If the outer boundary of a hydrogen atom, where the electron is found, were enlarged to be two miles wide, about the size of a city, the single proton in its nucleus would be the size of a golf ball.

This is what can happen if the amount of tin isn't right.