BYU grad offers new ways for detecting counterfeits

PROVO – Crusty old gold miners in Hollywood Westerns bit into gold to see if they’d found the real thing, but biting down on a possibly rare gold coin is no way to determine if it is genuine or counterfeit.

Gold is softer than teeth, so sinking incisors into the precious metal can reveal the real thing, but coins are generally harder and teeth marks damage their value.

The bite test also can deceive: Lead is even softer than gold.

One of the 2,372 Brigham Young University students graduating this week is wrapping up his senior thesis on new methods for testing coins purported to be rare finds.

Jeff Brown, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in physics, used a specialized X-ray machine and an electron microscope to study about 50 coins.

“Back in the old days, people really would take a gold coin and bite it to see if it was real,” Brown said. “Now, with the added value these coins have accumulated, biting them ruins them.”

Using the X-ray spectrometer, Brown was able to plot a spectrum of materials in the coins. For example, he could determine how much silver and how much copper was in a purportedly valuable silver coin.

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