Imperial College London


Faculty of EngineeringDepartment of Earth Science & Engineering

Research Postgraduate







Natural History MuseumNatural History Museum





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Chapman RJ, Banks DA, Styles MT, Walshaw RD, Piazolo S, Morgan DJ, Grimshaw MR, Spence-Jones CP, Matthews TJ, Borovinskaya Oet al., 2021, Chemical and physical heterogeneity within native gold: implications for the design of gold particle studies, Mineralium Deposita, ISSN: 0026-4598

Studies of populations of gold particles are becoming increasingly common; however, interpretation of compositional data may not be straightforward. Natural gold is rarely homogenous. Alloy heterogeneity is present as microfabrics formed either during primary mineralization or by modification of pre-existing alloys by chemical and physical drivers during subsequent residence in either hypogene or surficial environments. In electron-probe-microanalysis (EPMA)-based studies, the combination of Cu, Hg, and Pd values and mineral inclusion suites may be diagnostic for source style of mineralization, but Ag alone is rarely sufficient. Gold characterization studies by laser-ablation-ICP mass spectrometry linked to both quadrupole and Time-of-Flight (ToF-MS) systems show that only Ag, Cu, and Hg form homogenous alloys with Au sufficiently often to act as generic discriminants. Where present, other elements are commonly distributed highly heterogeneously at the micron or submicron scale, either as mineral inclusions or in highly localized, but low concentrations. Drawing upon our own data derived from individual inspection and analyses of approximately 40,000 gold particles from 526 placer and in situ localities worldwide, we show that adequate characterization of gold from a specific locality normally requires study of a minimum of 150 particles via a two-stage approach comprising spatial characterization of compositional heterogeneity, plus crystallographic orientation mapping, that informs subsequent targeted acquisition of quantitative compositional data by EPMA and/or laser-ablation ICP-MS methods. Such data provide the platform to review current understanding of the genesis of gold particle characteristics, elevating future compositional studies from empirical descriptions to process-focused interpretations.

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