(CNN)The newest form of gold created in a lab is the thickness of two atoms, according to a new study. It's only 0.47 nanometers thick, which is one million times thinner than a human finger nail.
Scientists just created the world's thinnest gold and it's two atoms thick
Researchers are calling it gold nanoseaweed because of its shape.
The study published Tuesday in the journal Advanced Science.
This makes it the thinnest unsupported gold ever created and it could be used in electronics and medical devices going forward.
The gold is made up of two layers of atoms stacked on top of each other. But don't let the thin structure fool you. Researchers say it's 10 times more efficient than gold nanoparticles that are currently used.
The difference is that current gold nanoparticles are 3D and the atoms comprise the bulk. The new gold is 2D and only contains surface atoms without any bulk atoms in between them.
Gold has many uses, and the newest ultra-thin gold could be the foundation of artificial enzymes used in rapid medical diagnostic tests and even purification systems for water.
Previously, research has demonstrated that gold can accelerate chemical reactions. Gold is attractive because it resists corrosion, has high electrical conductivity and doesn't contain the same harmful side effects as platinum when used in medical applications or drug delivery.
"This work amounts to a landmark achievement," said Sunjie Ye, study author and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Leeds' Molecular and Nanoscale Physics group. "Not only does it open up the possibility that gold can be used more efficiently in existing technologies, it is providing a route which would allow material scientists to develop other 2D metals. This method could innovate nanomaterial manufacturing."
On its current scale, the gold actually appears green in water, so the images in the study are artificially colored.
The nanosheet of gold forms when a confinement chemical is added to chloroauric acid containing gold and water. The chemical reduces the metallic form into a sheet, forming a lattice pattern.
"Gold is a highly effective catalyst. Because the nanosheets are so thin, just about every gold atom plays a part in the catalysis," said Stephen Evans, study author and head of the University of Leeds' Molecular and Nanoscale Research group. "It means the process is highly efficient. Our data suggests that industry could get the same effect from using a smaller amount of gold, and this has economic advantages when you are talking about a precious metal."
Because of their flexibility, the gold sheets could help in the creation of bendable screens and electronic inks.
The researchers are anticipating comparisons between this gold and graphene, the first 2D material ever discovered, which was isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004.
"I think with 2D gold we have got some very definite ideas about where it could be used, particularly in catalytic reactions and enzymatic reactions," Evans said. "We know it will be more effective than existing technologies -- so we have something that we believe people will be interested in developing with us."