Gold: Navigating the Future Through Mining

December 15, 2023

Gold has been prized for millennia for its beauty, but as humanity advances the true treasure of this metal is its properties that power modern life. 

Small but impactful amounts of gold can be found in many forms of technology that Americans rely on daily, including GPS systems. 

For many, it has become almost unimaginable to navigate a new city, plan a road trip, or map an alternate route around traffic without a GPS system whether via our smartphones or vehicle navigation systems. While most device users aren’t aware that precious metals are powering their navigation, trace amounts of gold play a critical role in ensuring the system works seamlessly; a function often taken for granted. 

Case Study: GPS Systems

A GPS unit has three basic parts: 

  1. An antenna, which receives satellite signals
  2. A receiver-processor unit, which converts the signal to navigation information
  3. A control and display unit, which displays the information to the user

Did you know? Gold plating is used in satellites due to its corrosion resistance and ability to reflect infrared radiation.

Gold may be found in GPS antennas, but the primary application of the metal is in circuit boards that receive and process GPS signals. Reliability and durability in weather conditions are key, making gold an ideal choice for GPS circuit board components.

Did you know? Alaska is home to Pogo Mine, the eighth largest gold producer in the U.S.

Gold’s Properties:

  • High electrical conductivity - Gold is an excellent conductor of electricity. The metal helps efficiently transfer electrical signals between components on a circuit board.
  • Resistance to corrosion - Gold maintains its electrical conductivity over time and is resistant to oxidation, which can disrupt electrical signals.
  • High solderability - Gold easily forms strong bonds with solder, allowing for reliable connections between circuit board components. 

Application in Circuit Boards:

  • Gold plating protects edge connectors from corrosion, enabling long lasting connection between circuit boards.
  • Gold’s high electrical conductivity and solderability make it the ideal material for the delicate wire bonds that connect integrated circuits to circuit board pads.
  • Gold plating is applied to spring finger contacts (small, spring-loaded contacts found on memory modules) to connect them to the circuit board. 
  • Gold can be applied as a thin film to shield delicate circuit board components from electromagnetic interference (EMI). 

The amount of gold in one GPS system is small enough to go unnoticed, but the many applications of the metal make it critical to building technologies that humanity will use to navigate the future.