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A team of Chinese researchers have turned cheap copper into a new material “almost identical” to gold, according to a study published in peer-reviewed journal Science Advances on Saturday.

The discovery will significantly reduce the use of rare, expensive metals in factories, said the authors. Professor Sun Jian and colleagues at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Liaoning, shot a copper target with a jet of hot, electrically charged argon gas. The fast-moving ionised particles blasted copper atoms off the target. The atoms cooled down and condensed on the surface of a collecting device, producing a thin layer of sand. Each grain of the sand had a diameter of only a few nanometres, or a thousandth of the size of a bacterium.

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