Monday, 12 August 2013
There were some excellent papers at last year’s Precious Metals ’12 conference in Cape Town. The most unconventional of these was presented by Prof. Jannie van Deventer of the University of Melbourne, who discussed “invisible gold” which is not detected by standard analytical techniques (see posting of 8th October, 2012).
Modern metallurgists quantify precious metals through spectroscopic analysis of solid and solution samples and use this as a method to follow the reaction pathway of extraction processes. If spectroscopy does not show up gold or platinum, then clearly it does not exist, but if physical precious metal is recovered, the outcome is dismissed as an error or fraud, because precious metal cannot be created.
Prof. van Deventer asked “What would happen if precious metals have a distorted valence electron structure not yet studied by science?” Such species will not mimic the usual chemical reactions of normal precious metals, they may not even behave like metals, and they will not be detectable by spectroscopy. They will certainly not be studied, as no tenure track academic could afford such controversy.
This provided much food for thought and discussion. On discussing the paper with him afterwards, it was evident that Jannie felt that the ideas that he presented would not pass peer-review, but I disagreed and invited him to submit his paper to the special conference issue of Minerals Engineering. Maybe his ideas do challenge mainstream science, but little over 100 years ago so did Einstein's Relativity Theory, and Quantum Theory!
Finally he agreed to submit the paper for peer-review and I chose three experienced gold metallurgists to review the work. The first report was not encouraging and suggested that the basic principles in the paper were not well defined and established in the scientific community. This did not discourage me too much, as it reminded me again of the many who were sceptical of the 26 year old patents clerk who came up with a theory in 1905 which severely challenged mainstream science.
Later reports were much more encouraging, commending the author for researching this controversial topic and drawing together the various threads of scientific literature, experimental data and relevant information from the pseudo-scientific literature. The referees felt that given the subject matter, which addresses the controversial topic of non-assayable ores and the difficult task of bringing together the internet sources on "alchemy" with selected peer-reviewed journal publications, this paper would require open-minded readers and would no doubt elicit further discussion, and potential published critique, all of which is a healthy situation for any robust scientific interaction covering a potentially controversial topic.
Well, after some revision, the paper has now been published in Minerals Engineering, and is available for viewing on ScienceDirect. I sincerely hope that it will be read by everyone involved in the gold industry, and that it does elicit further discussion and debate.