Gold in the ocean

After World War I, Germany owed a lot of money in war reparations, and also needed a lot of money to import food. Its economy was shaky, so scientists got the idea of extracting gold from seawater to pay the country’s bills.

Although gold is heavy, a small fraction of the gold that rivers wash into the sea remains in suspension.

Germany outfitted a ship with laboratories and extraction equipment and sent it on a long voyage to mine gold from water.

The scheme failed. There really was gold in the water, but about a thousand times less than the original promoters had thought.

Fritz Haber, a Nobel Prize chemist and one of the strangest scientists of his time, eventually concluded that gold from the wedding bands of the researchers had contaminated their samples and given the false readings.

So the gold is still in the ocean, and because the oceans are so big, there’s a lot of it. But it was and remains uneconomic to extract it.

MORAL OF THIS STORY: When it comes to gold, you can never be too careful.

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