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High purity crystalline ruthenium, a chemical element
A strip of Permalloy, a magnetic nickel-iron alloy
A button of yttrium-silver, an intermetallic compound, after repeated hammer blows, and a gadolinium-silicon-germanium intermetallic shattered with a light tap from the same hammer

A metal (from Greek μέταλλον métallon, "mine, quarry, metal") is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, has a lustrous appearance, and conducts both electricity and heat relatively well. Metals are typically malleable (they can be hammered into thin sheets) or ductile (can be drawn into wires). A metal may be a pure chemical element such as gold, or an alloy of variable composition such as stainless steel, or an alloy of fixed composition, otherwise known as an intermetallic compound, such as one of the nickel aluminides, Ni3Al, NiAl, or NiAl3. Most elemental metals are denser than other elements; iron, for example, is heavier than carbon, and sulfur.

In physics, a metal is regarded as any substance capable of conducting electricity at a temperature of absolute zero. Many elements and compounds that are not normally classified as metals become metallic under high pressures. For example, physicists were able to keep hydrogen in its solid state under more than 3 million times the atmospheric pressure and deduce its metallic properties.[1]

In chemistry, two elements that would otherwise qualify as brittle metals—arsenic and antimony—are commonly instead recognised as metalloids, on account of their predominately non-metallic chemistry. Around 95 of the 118 elements in the periodic table are metals. This account is inexact because the boundaries between metals, nonmetals and metalloids fluctuate slightly due to the lack of a universal definitions.

Astrophysicists use the term "metal" to refer collectively to all chemical elements in a star that are heavier than the lightest two, hydrogen and helium, and not just traditional metals. A star fuses lighter atoms, mostly hydrogen and helium, to make heavier atoms over its lifetime. Used in that sense, the metallicity of an astronomical object is the proportion of its matter made up of the heavier chemical elements.[2]

The strength and resilience of some metals has led to their frequent use in high-rise building and bridge construction, as well as most vehicles, many home appliances, tools, pipes, non-illuminated signs and railroad tracks. Precious metals were historically used as coinage.



Gallium crystals

Metals are shiny and lustrous, at least when freshly prepared or fractured. Sheets of metal thicker than a few micrometres appear opaque, but gold leaf transmits green light. Metals are relatively good conductors of electricity and heat. Typically they are malleable and ductile, deforming under stress without cleaving.[3]

Although most metals have higher densities than most nonmetals,[3] there is a wide variation in their densities, lithium being the least dense solid element (0.534 g/cm3) and osmium (22.59 g/cm3) the most dense. Magnesium, aluminium and titanium are light metals of significant commercial importance. Their densities of 1.7, 2.7 and 4.5 g/cm3 range from 19 to 56% of the densities of the older structural metals, iron (7.9) and copper (8.9).

The atoms of metallic substances are typically arranged in one of three common crystal structures, namely body-centered cubic (bcc), face-centered cubic (fcc), and hexagonal close-packed (hcp). In bcc, each atom is positioned at the center of a cube of eight others. In fcc and hcp, each atom is surrounded by twelve others, but the stacking of the layers differs. Some metals adopt different structures depending on the temperature.[4]

Atoms of metals readily lose their outer shell electrons, resulting in a free flowing cloud of electrons throughout the metallic lattice. The solid state of the metal is the net result of electrostatic interactions between each atom and the electron cloud. This type of interaction is called a metallic bond.[3]

The strength of metallic bonds for different metals reaches a maximum around the center of the transition metal series, as those elements have large amounts of delocalized electrons in tight binding type metallic bonds. However, other factors (such as atomic radius, nuclear charge, number of bonds orbitals, overlap of orbital energies and crystal form) are involved as well.[3]


A metal rod with a hot-worked eyelet. Hot-working is a technique which exploits the capacity of the metal involved to be plastically deformed.

Mechanical properties of metals include ductility, i.e. their capacity for elastic deformation. The nondirectional nature of metallic bonding is thought to contribute significantly to the ductility of most metallic solids. In contrast, when the planes of an ionic bond slide past one another, such as may occur in a crystal of table salt, the resultant change in location shifts ions of the same charge into close proximity, resulting in the cleavage of the crystal; such a shift is not observed in a covalently bonded crystal, such as a diamond, where fracture and crystal fragmentation occurs.[5] Reversible elastic deformation in metals can be described by Hooke's Law for restoring forces, where the stress is linearly proportional to the strain.

Forces larger than the elastic limit, or heat, may cause a permanent (irreversible) deformation of the object, known as plastic deformation or plasticity. An applied force may be a tensile (pulling) force, a compressive (pushing) force, or a shear, bending or torsion (twisting) force. A temperature change may affect the movement or displacement of structural defects in the metal such as grain boundaries, point vacancies, line and screw dislocations, stacking faults and twins in both crystalline and non-crystalline solids. Internal slip, creep, and metal fatigue may ensue.


The energy states available to electrons in different kinds of solids at thermodynamic equilibrium.
Here, height is energy while width is the density of available states for a certain energy in the material listed. The shading follows the Fermi–Dirac distribution (black = all states filled, white = no state filled).
The Fermi level EF is the energy level at which the electrons are in a position to interact with energy levels above them. In metals and semimetals the Fermi level EF lies inside at least one band of energy states.
In insulators and semiconductors the Fermi level is inside a band gap; however, in semiconductors the bands are near enough to the Fermi level to be thermally populated with electrons or holes.

The good electrical conductivities of metals originate from the fact that they readily lose their outer shell electrons. Broadly, the forces holding an individual atom’s outer shell electrons in place are weaker than the attractive forces on the same electrons arising from interactions between the atoms in the solid or liquid metal. The electrons involved become delocalised and the atomic structure of a metal can effectively be visualised as a collection of atoms embedded in a cloud of relatively mobile electrons. Metals have electrical conductivity values of from 6.9 × 103 S•cm−1 for manganese to 6.3 × 105 for silver. In contrast, a semiconducting metalloid such as boron has an electrical conductivity 1.5 × 10−6 S•cm−1.

The electrical conductivity of a metal, as well as the contribution of its electrons to its heat capacity and thermal conductivity, can be calculated from the free electron model, albeit this does not take into account the detailed structure of the metal's ion lattice.

Taking into account the positive potential caused by the arrangement of the ion cores enables consideration of the electronic band structure and binding energy of a metal. Various mathematical models are applicable, the simplest being the nearly free electron model.


Metals are usually inclined to form cations through electron loss,[3] reacting with oxygen in the air to form oxides over various timescales (iron rusts over years, while potassium burns in seconds). Examples:

4 Na + O2 → 2 Na2O (sodium oxide)
2 Ca + O2 → 2 CaO (calcium oxide)
4 Al + 3 O2 → 2 Al2O3 (aluminium oxide).

The transition metals (such as iron, copper, zinc, and nickel) are slower to oxidize because they form a passivating layer of oxide that protects their interiors. Others, like palladium, platinum and gold, do not react with the atmosphere at all. Some metals form a barrier layer of oxide on their surface which cannot be penetrated by further oxygen molecules and thus retain their shiny appearance and good conductivity for many decades (like aluminium, magnesium, some steels, and titanium). The oxides of metals are generally basic, as opposed to those of nonmetals, which are acidic. Exceptions are largely oxides with very high oxidation states such as CrO3, Mn2O7, and OsO4, which have strictly acidic reactions.

Painting, anodizing or plating metals are good ways to prevent their corrosion. However, a more reactive metal in the electrochemical series must be chosen for coating, especially when chipping of the coating is expected. Water and the two metals form an electrochemical cell, and if the coating is less reactive than the underlying metal, the coating actually promotes corrosion.

Periodic table distribution

In chemistry, the elements which are usually considered to be metals under ordinary conditions are shown in yellow on the periodic table below. The remaining elements are either metalloids (B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, and Te being commonly recognised as such) or nonmetals. Astatine (At) is usually classified as either a nonmetal or a metalloid; it has been predicted to be a metal. It is here shown as a metalloid.

Metals–nonmetals in the periodic table
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Group →
↓ Period
1 H He
2 Li Be B C N O F Ne
3 Na Mg Al Si P S Cl Ar
4 K Ca Sc Ti V Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
5 Rb Sr Y Zr Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te I Xe
6 Cs Ba La Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg Tl Pb Bi Po At Rn
7 Fr Ra Ac Th Pa U Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm Md No Lr Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt Ds Rg Cn Nh Fl Mc Lv Ts Og


Samples of babbitt metal, an alloy of tin combined largely with antimony, and copper, and used in bearings to reduce friction

An alloy is a substance having metallic properties and which is composed of two or more elements at least one of which is a metal. Most pure metals are either too soft, brittle or chemically reactive for practical use. Combining different ratios of metals as alloys modifies the properties of pure metals to produce desirable characteristics. The aim of making alloys is generally to make them less brittle, harder, resistant to corrosion, or have a more desirable color and luster. Of all the metallic alloys in use today, the alloys of iron (steel, stainless steel, cast iron, tool steel, alloy steel) make up the largest proportion both by quantity and commercial value. Iron alloyed with various proportions of carbon gives low, mid and high carbon steels, with increasing carbon levels reducing ductility and toughness. The addition of silicon will produce cast irons, while the addition of chromium, nickel and molybdenum to carbon steels (more than 10%) results in stainless steels.

Other significant metallic alloys are those of aluminium, titanium, copper and magnesium. Copper alloys have been known since prehistory—bronze gave the Bronze Age its name—and have many applications today, most importantly in electrical wiring. The alloys of the other three metals have been developed relatively recently; due to their chemical reactivity they require electrolytic extraction processes. The alloys of aluminium, titanium and magnesium are valued for their high strength-to-weight ratios; magnesium can also provide electromagnetic shielding.[citation needed] These materials are ideal for situations where high strength-to-weight ratio is more important than material cost, such as in aerospace and some automotive applications.

Alloys specially designed for highly demanding applications, such as jet engines, may contain more than ten elements.


Metals can be systematically categorized according to their chemical properties (as shown in the Metallic elements table in this section) into alkali and alkaline earth metals; transition and post-transition metals; and lanthanides and actinides. Other less-systematic categories (described in the subsections below) include ferrous and non-ferrous metals; brittle metals and [refractory metal]]s; heavy and light metals; and base, noble, and precious metals.

Ferrous and non-ferrous metals

The term "ferrous" is derived from the Latin word meaning "containing iron". This can include pure iron, such as wrought iron, or an alloy such as steel. Ferrous metals are often magnetic, but not exclusively. Non-ferrous metals include metals and alloys which do not include appreciable amounts of iron.

Brittle metal

While nearly all metals are malleable or ductile, a few—beryllium, chromium, manganese, gallium, and bismuth—are brittle. Arsenic, and antimony, if admitted as metals, are brittle. Low values of the ratio of bulk elastic modulus to shear modulus (Pugh's criterion) are indicative of intrinsic brittleness.

Refractory metal

In materials science, metallurgy, and engineering, a refractory metal is a metal that is extraordinarily resistant to heat and wear. Which metals belong to this category varies; the most common definition includes niobium, molybdenum, tantalum, tungsten, and rhenium. They all have melting points above 2000 °C, and a high hardness at room temperature.

Heavy and light metals

A heavy metal is any relatively dense metal or metalloid.[6] More specific definitions have been proposed, but none have obtained widespread acceptance. Some heavy metals have niche uses, or are notably toxic; some are essential in trace amounts.

Base, noble and precious metals

In chemistry, the term base metal is used informally to refer to a metal that is easily oxidized or corroded, such as reacting easily with dilute hydrochloric acid (HCl) to form a metal chloride and hydrogen. Examples include iron, nickel, lead and zinc. Copper is considered a base metal as it is oxidized relatively easily, although it does not react with HCl.

The term noble metal is commonly used in opposition to base metal. Noble metals are resistant to corrosion or oxidation,[7] unlike most base metals. They tend to be precious metals, often due to perceived rarity. Examples include gold, platinum, silver, rhodium, iridium and palladium.

In alchemy and numismatics, the term base metal is contrasted with precious metal, that is, those of high economic value.[8] A longtime goal of the alchemists was the transmutation of base metals into precious metals including such coinage metals as silver and gold. Most coins today are made of base metals with no intrinsic value, in the past, coins frequently derived their value primarily from their precious metal content.

Chemically, the precious metals (like the noble metals) are less reactive than most elements, have high luster and high electrical conductivity. Historically, precious metals were important as currency, but are now regarded mainly as investment and industrial commodities. Gold, silver, platinum and palladium each have an ISO 4217 currency code. The best-known precious metals are gold and silver. While both have industrial uses, they are better known for their uses in art, jewelry, and coinage. Other precious metals include the platinum group metals: ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum, of which platinum is the most widely traded.

The demand for precious metals is driven not only by their practical use, but also by their role as investments and a store of value.[9] Palladium and platinum are, as of fall 2017, valued at about three quarters the price of gold. Silver is substantially less expensive than these metals, but is often traditionally considered a precious metal in light of its role in coinage and jewelry.



Metals in the Earth's crust:
abundance and main occurrence or source, by weight[n 1]
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
1  H He
2  Li Be B C N O F Ne
3  Na Mg Al Si P S Cl Ar
4  K Ca Sc Ti V Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
5  Rb Sr Y Zr Nb Mo Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te  I  Xe
6  Cs Ba La 1 asterisk Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg Tl Pb Bi
7  1 asterisk
1 asterisk Ce Pr Nd Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu
1 asterisk Th U
   Most abundant (up to (82000 ppm)
   Rare (0.01–0.99 ppm)
   Abundant (100–999 ppm)
   Very rare (0.0001–0.0099 ppm)
   Uncommon (1–99 ppm)
Metals left of the dividing line occur (or are sourced) mainly as lithophiles; those to the right, as chalcophiles except gold (a siderophile) and tin (a lithophile).

Metals up to the vicinity of iron (in the periodic table) are largely made via stellar nucleosynthesis. In this process, lighter elements from hydrogen to silicon undergo successive fusion reactions inside stars, releasing light and heat and forming heavier elements with higher atomic numbers.[10]

Heavier metals are not usually formed this way since fusion reactions involving such nuclei would consume rather than release energy.[11] Rather, they are largely synthesised (from elements with a lower atomic number) by neutron capture, with the two main modes of this repetitive capture being the s-process and the r-process. In the s-process ("s" stands for "slow"), singular captures are separated by years or decades, allowing the less stable nuclei to beta decay,[12] while in the r-process ("rapid"), captures happen faster than nuclei can decay. Therefore, the s-process takes a more or less clear path: for example, stable cadmium-110 nuclei are successively bombarded by free neutrons inside a star until they form cadmium-115 nuclei which are unstable and decay to form indium-115 (which is nearly stable, with a half-life 30000 times the age of the universe). These nuclei capture neutrons and form indium-116, which is unstable, and decays to form tin-116, and so on.[10][13][n 2] In contrast, there is no such path in the r-process. The s-process stops at bismuth due to the short half-lives of the next two elements, polonium and astatine, which decay to bismuth or lead. The r-process is so fast it can skip this zone of instability and go on to create heavier elements such as thorium and uranium.[15]

Metals condense in planets as a result of stellar evolution and destruction processes. Stars lose much of their mass when it is ejected late in their lifetimes, and sometimes thereafter as a result of a neutron star merger,[16][n 3] thereby increasing the abundance of elements heavier than helium in the interstellar medium. When gravitational attraction causes this matter to coalesce and collapse new stars and planets are formed.[18]


The Earth's crust is made of approximately 25% of metals by weight, of which 80% are light metals such as sodium, magnesium, and aluminium. Nonmetals (~75%) make up the rest of the crust. Despite the overall scarcity of some heavier metals such as copper, they can become concentrated in economically extractable quantities as a result of mountain building, erosion, or other geological processes.


A sample of diaspore, an aluminium oxide hydroxide mineral, α-AlO(OH)

Metals are primarily found as lithophiles (rock-loving) or chalcophiles (ore-loving). Lithophile metals are mainly the s-block elements, the more reactive of the d-block elements. and the f-block elements. They have a strong affinity for oxygen and mostly exist as relatively low density silicate minerals. Chalcophile metals are mainly the less reactive d-block elements, and the period 4–6 p-block metals. They are usually found in (insoluble) sulfide minerals. Being denser than the lithophiles, hence sinking lower into the crust at the time of its solidification, the chalcophiles tend to be less abundant than the lithophiles.

On the other hand, gold is a siderophile, or iron-loving element. It does not readily form compounds with either oxygen or sulfur. At the time of the Earth's formation, and as the most noble (inert) of metals, gold sank into the core due to its tendency to form high-density metallic alloys. Consequently, it is a relatively rare metal. Some other (less) noble metals—molybdenum, rhenium, the platinum group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum), germanium, and tin—can be counted as siderophiles but only in terms of their primary occurrence in the Earth (core, mantle and crust), rather the crust. These metals otherwise occur in the crust, in small quantities, chiefly as chalcophiles (less so in their native form).[n 4]


Metals are often extracted from the Earth by means of mining ores that are rich sources of the requisite elements, such as bauxite. Ore is located by prospecting techniques, followed by the exploration and examination of deposits. Mineral sources are generally divided into surface mines, which are mined by excavation using heavy equipment, and subsurface mines.

Once the ore is mined, the metals must be extracted, usually by chemical or electrolytic reduction. Pyrometallurgy uses high temperatures to convert ore into raw metals, while hydrometallurgy employs aqueous chemistry for the same purpose. The methods used depend on the metal and their contaminants.

When a metal ore is an ionic compound of that metal and a non-metal, the ore must usually be smelted—heated with a reducing agent—to extract the pure metal. Many common metals, such as iron, are smelted using carbon as a reducing agent. Some metals, such as aluminium and sodium, have no commercially practical reducing agent, and are extracted using electrolysis instead.[19][20]

Sulfide ores are not reduced directly to the metal but are roasted in air to convert them to oxides.


A neodymium compound alloy magnet of composition Nd2Fe14B on a nickel-iron bracket from a computer hard drive

Metals are present in nearly all aspects of modern life. Iron may be the most common as it accounts for 90% of all refined metals. Pure iron may be the cheapest metal of all at cost of about US$0.07 cents per gram. Platinum, at a cost of about $27 per gram, may be the most ubiquitous given it is said to be found in, or used to produce, 20% of all consumer goods. Polonium is likely to be the most expensive metal, at a cost of about $100,000,000 per gram.[citation needed]

Some metals and metal alloys possess high structural strength per unit mass, making them useful materials for carrying large loads or resisting impact damage. Metal alloys can be engineered to have high resistance to shear, torque and deformation. However the same metal can also be vulnerable to fatigue damage through repeated use or from sudden stress failure when a load capacity is exceeded. The strength and resilience of metals has led to their frequent use in high-rise building and bridge construction, as well as most vehicles, many appliances, tools, pipes, non-illuminated signs and railroad tracks.

Metals are good conductors, making them valuable in electrical appliances and for carrying an electric current over a distance with little energy lost. Electrical power grids rely on metal cables to distribute electricity. Home electrical systems, for the most part, are wired with copper wire for its good conducting properties.

The thermal conductivity of metals is useful for containers to heat materials over a flame. Metals are also used for heat sinks to protect sensitive equipment from overheating.

The high reflectivity of some metals is important in the construction of mirrors, including precision astronomical instruments. This last property can also make metallic jewelry aesthetically appealing.

Some metals have specialized uses; radioactive metals such as uranium and plutonium are used in nuclear power plants to produce energy via nuclear fission. Mercury is a liquid at room temperature and is used in switches to complete a circuit when it flows over the switch contacts. Shape memory alloy is used for applications such as pipes, fasteners and vascular stents.

Metals can be doped with foreign molecules—organic, inorganic, biological and polymers. This doping entails the metal with new properties that are induced by the guest molecules. Applications in catalysis, medicine, electrochemical cells, corrosion and more have been developed.[21]


A pile of compacted steel scraps, ready for recycling

Demand for metals is closely linked to economic growth. During the 20th century, the variety of metals used in society grew rapidly. Today, the development of major nations, such as China and India, and technological advances, are fuelling ever more demand. The result is that mining activities are expanding, and more and more of the world's metal stocks are above ground in use, rather than below ground as unused reserves. An example is the in-use stock of copper. Between 1932 and 1999, copper in use in the US rose from 73g to 238g per person.[22]

Metals are inherently recyclable, so in principle, can be used over and over again, minimizing these negative environmental impacts and saving energy. For example, 95% of the energy used to make aluminium from bauxite ore is saved by using recycled material.[23] Levels of metals recycling are generally low. In 2010, the International Resource Panel, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published reports on metal stocks that exist within society[24] and their recycling rates.[22]

The report authors observed that the metal stocks in society can serve as huge mines above ground. They warned that the recycling rates of some rare metals used in applications such as mobile phones, battery packs for hybrid cars and fuel cells are so low that unless future end-of-life recycling rates are dramatically stepped up these critical metals will become unavailable for use in modern technology.



Copper, which occurs in native form, may have been the first metal discovered given its distinctive appearance, heaviness, and malleability compared to other stones or pebbles. Gold, silver, and iron (as meteoric iron) were likewise discovered in prehistory. Other metals known in antiquity were lead, mercury, and tin. The malleability of the solid metals led to the first attempts to craft metal ornaments, tools, and weapons.


The Artemision Bronze[n 5] showing either Poseidon or Zeus, c. 460 BC, National Archaeological Museum, Athens. The figure is more than 2 m in height.
Electrum, a natural alloy of silver and gold, was often used for making coins. Shown is the Roman god Apollo, and on the obverse, a Delphi tripod (circa 310–305 BC).

The discovery of bronze enabled people to create metal objects which were harder and more durable than previously possible. Bronze tools, weapons, armor, and building materials such as decorative tiles were harder and more durable than their stone and copper ("Chalcolithic") predecessors. Initially, bronze was made out of copper and arsenic, forming arsenic bronze, or from naturally or artificially mixed ores of copper and arsenic,[25] with the earliest artifacts so far known coming from the Iranian plateau in the 5th millennium BCE.[26] It was only later that tin was used, becoming the major non-copper ingredient of bronze in the late 3rd millennium BC.[27]

Ancient Latin and Greek writers such as Theophrastus, Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, or Pedanius Dioscorides, did not try to classify metals. The ancient Europeans never attained the concept "metal" as a distinct elementary substance with fixed, characteristic chemical and physical properties. Following Empedocles, all substances within the sublunary sphere were assumed to vary in their constituent classical elements of earth, water, air and fire. Following the Pythagoreans, Plato assumed that these elements could be further reduced to plane geometrical shapes (triangles and squares) bounding space and relating to the regular polyhedra in the sequence earth:cube, water:icosahedron, air:octahedron, fire:tetrahedron. However, this philosophical extension did not become as popular as the simple four elements, after it was rejected by Aristotle. Aristotle also rejected the atomic theory of Democritus, since he classified the implied existence of a vacuum necessary for motion as a contradiction (a vacuum implies nonexistence, therefore cannot exist). Aristotle did, however, introduce underlying antagonistic qualities (or forces) of dry vs. wet and cold vs. heat into the composition of each of the four elements.

In the first centuries A.D. a relation between the planets and the existing metals was assumed as Gold:Sun, Silver:Moon, Electrum:Jupiter, Iron:Mars, Copper:Venus, Tin:Mercury, Lead:Saturn. After electrum was determined to be a combination of silver and gold, the relations Tin:Jupiter and Mercury:Mercury were substituted into the previous sequence.[28]

Eastern and medieval developments

Arabic and medieval alchemists believed that all metals and matter were composed of the principle of sulfur, carrying the combustible property, and the principle of mercury, the mother of all metals and carrier of the liquidity or fusibility, and the volatility properties. These principles were not necessarily the common substances sulfur and mercury found in most laboratories. This theory reinforced the belief that the all metals were destined to become gold in the bowels of the earth through the proper combinations of heat, digestion, time, and elimination of contaminants, all of which could be developed and hastened through the knowledge and methods of alchemy. Paracelsus added the third principle of salt, carrying the nonvolatile and incombustible properties, in his tria prima doctrine. These theories retained the four classical elements as underlying the composition of sulfur, mercury and salt.

Arsenic, zinc, antimony, and bismuth became known, although these were at first called semimetals or bastard metals on account of their immalleability. All four may have been used incidentally in earlier times without recognising their nature. Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great, 1193–1280) is believed to have been the first to isolate arsenic from a compound in 1250, by heating soap together with arsenic trisulfide. Metallic zinc, which is brittle if impure, was isolated in India by 1300 AD. The first description of a procedure for isolating antimony is in the 1540 book De la pirotechnia by Vannoccio Biringuccio. Bismuth was described by Agricola in De Natura Fossilium (c. 1546); it had been confused in early times with tin and lead because of its resemblance to those elements.

The Renaissance

Platinum crystals
A disc of highly enriched uranium that was recovered from scrap processed at the Y-12 National Security Complex, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee

The first systematic text on the arts of mining and metallurgy was De la Pirotechnia (1540) by Vannoccio Biringuccio, which treats the examination, fusion, and working of metals.

Sixteen years later, Georgius Agricola published De Re Metallica in 1556, a clear and complete account of the profession of mining, metallurgy, and the accessory arts and sciences, as well as qualifying as the greatest treatise on the chemical industry through the sixteenth century.

He gave the following description of a metal in his De Natura Fossilium (1546):

Metal is a mineral body, by nature either liquid or somewhat hard. The latter may be melted by the heat of the fire, but when it has cooled down again and lost all heat, it becomes hard again and resumes its proper form. In this respect it differs from the stone which melts in the fire, for although the latter regain its hardness, yet it loses its pristine form and properties.

Traditionally there are six different kinds of metals, namely gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead. There are really others, for quicksilver is a metal, although the Alchemists disagree with us on this subject, and bismuth is also. The ancient Greek writers seem to have been ignorant of bismuth, wherefore Ammonius rightly states that there are many species of metals, animals, and plants which are unknown to us. Stibium when smelted in the crucible and refined has as much right to be regarded as a proper metal as is accorded to lead by writers. If when smelted, a certain portion be added to tin, a bookseller's alloy is produced from which the type is made that is used by those who print books on paper.

Each metal has its own form which it preserves when separated from those metals which were mixed with it. Therefore neither electrum nor Stannum [not meaning our tin] is of itself a real metal, but rather an alloy of two metals. Electrum is an alloy of gold and silver, Stannum of lead and silver. And yet if silver be parted from the electrum, then gold remains and not electrum; if silver be taken away from Stannum, then lead remains and not Stannum.

Whether brass, however, is found as a native metal or not, cannot be ascertained with any surety. We only know of the artificial brass, which consists of copper tinted with the colour of the mineral calamine. And yet if any should be dug up, it would be a proper metal. Black and white copper seem to be different from the red kind.

Metal, therefore, is by nature either solid, as I have stated, or fluid, as in the unique case of quicksilver.

But enough now concerning the simple kinds.[29]

Platinum, the third precious metal after gold and silver, was discovered in Ecuador during the period 1736 to 1744, by the Spanish astronomer Antonio de Ulloa and his colleague the mathematician Jorge Juan y Santacilia. Ulloa was the first person to write a scientific description of the metal, in 1748.

In 1789, the German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth was able to isolate an oxide of uranium, which he thought was the metal itself. Klaproth was subsequently credited as the discoverer of uranium. It was not until 1841, that the French chemist Eugène-Melchior Péligot, was able to prepare the first sample of uranium metal. Henri Becquerel subsequently discovered radioactivity in 1896 by using uranium.

Light metals

All metals discovered until 1809 had relatively high densities; their heaviness was regarded as a singularly distinguishing criterion. From 1809 onwards, light metals such as sodium, potassium, and strontium were isolated. Their low densities challenged conventional wisdom as to the nature of metals. They behaved chemically as metals however, and were subsequently recognised as such.

Aluminium was discovered in 1825 but it was not until 1886 that an industrial large-scale production method was developed. Prices of aluminium dropped and aluminium became widely used in jewelry, everyday items, eyeglass frames, optical instruments, tableware, and foil in the 1890s and early 20th century. Aluminium's ability to form hard yet light alloys with other metals provided the metal many uses at the time. During World War I, major governments demanded large shipments of aluminium for light strong airframes.

While pure metallic titanium (99.9%) was first prepared in 1910 it was not used outside the laboratory until 1932. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union pioneered the use of titanium in military and submarine applications as part of programs related to the Cold War. Starting in the early 1950s, titanium came into use extensively in military aviation, particularly in high-performance jets, starting with aircraft such as the F-100 Super Sabre and Lockheed A-12 and SR-71.

Metallic scandium was produced for the first time in 1937. The first pound of 99% pure scandium metal was produced in 1960. Production of aluminium-scandium alloys began in 1971. Aluminium-scandium alloys were also developed in the USSR.

The age of steel

White-hot steel pours like water from a 35-ton electric furnace, at the Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation, in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania

The modern era in steelmaking began with the introduction of Henry Bessemer's Bessemer process in 1855, the raw material for which was pig iron. His method let him produce steel in large quantities cheaply, thus mild steel came to be used for most purposes for which wrought iron was formerly used. The Gilchrist-Thomas process (or basic Bessemer process) was an improvement to the Bessemer process, made by lining the converter with a basic material to remove phosphorus.

Due to its high tensile strength and low cost, steel came to be a major component used in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, automobiles, machines, appliances, and weapons.

The last stable metals

By 1900 three metals with atomic numbers less than lead (#82), the heaviest stable metal, remained to be discovered: elements 71, 72, 75.

Von Welsbach, in 1906, proved that the old ytterbium also contained a new element (#71), which he named cassiopeium. Urbain proved this simultaneously, but his samples were very impure and only contained trace quantities of the new element. Despite this, his chosen name lutetium was adopted.

In 1908, Ogawa found element 75 in thorianite but assigned it as element 43 instead of 75 and named it nipponium. In 1925 Walter Noddack, Ida Eva Tacke and Otto Berg announced its separation from gadolinite and gave it the present name, rhenium.

Georges Urbain claimed to have found element 72 in rare-earth residues, while Vladimir Vernadsky independently found it in orthite. Neither claim was confirmed due to World War I, and neither could be confirmed later, as the chemistry they reported does not match that now known for hafnium. After the war, in 1922, Coster and Hevesy found it by X-ray spectroscopic analysis in Norwegian zircon. Hafnium was thus the last stable element to be discovered.

Since that time, only unstable radioactive metals have been discovered or synthesised.

See also


  1. ^ Trace elements having an abundance equalling or much less than one part per trillion (namely Tc, Pm, Po, At, Ra, Ac, Pa, Np, and Pu) are not shown.
  2. ^ In some cases, for example in the presence of high energy gamma rays or in a very high temperature hydrogen rich environment, the subject nuclei may experience neutron loss or proton gain resulting in the production of (comparatively rare) neutron deficient isotopes.[14]
  3. ^ The ejection of matter when two neutron stars collide is attributed to the interaction of their tidal forces, possible crustal disruption, and shock heating (which is what happens if you floor the accelerator in car when the engine is cold).[17]
  4. ^ Iron, cobalt, nickel, and tin are also siderophiles from a whole of Earth perspective.
  5. ^ Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12% tin and often with the addition of other metals (such as aluminium, manganese, nickel or zinc) and sometimes non-metals or metalloids such as arsenic, phosphorus or silicon.


  1. ^ Crew, BEC. "Physicists Achieve Early Stages of a New, Solid State of Hydrogen". Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  2. ^ John C. Martin. "What we learn from a star's metal content". New Analysis RR Lyrae Kinematics in the Solar Neighborhood. Retrieved September 7, 2005. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Mortimer, Charles E. (1975). Chemistry: A Conceptual Approach (3rd ed.). New York:: D. Van Nostrad Company. 
  4. ^ Holleman, A. F.; Wiberg, E. "Inorganic Chemistry" Academic Press: San Diego, 2001. ISBN 0-12-352651-5.
  5. ^ Ductility – strength of materials
  6. ^ Metal contamination. Editions Quae. 2006. ISBN 9782759200115. 
  7. ^ Tunay, Olcay; Kabdasli, Isik; Arslan-Alaton, Idil; Olmez-Hanci, Tugba (2010-10-12). Chemical Oxidation Applications for Industrial Wastewaters. IWA Publishing. ISBN 9781843393078. 
  8. ^ Walther, John V. (2013-02-15). Earth's Natural Resources. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. ISBN 9781449632342. 
  9. ^ Abdul-Rahman, Yahia (2014-11-10). The Art of RF (Riba-Free) Islamic Banking and Finance: Tools and Techniques for Community-Based Banking. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118770962. 
  10. ^ a b Cox 1997, pp. 73–89
  11. ^ Cox 1997, pp. 32, 63, 85
  12. ^ Podosek 2011, p. 482
  13. ^ Padmanabhan 2001, p. 234
  14. ^ Rehder 2010, pp. 32, 33
  15. ^ Hofmann 2002, pp. 23–24
  16. ^ Hadhazy 2016
  17. ^ Choptuik, Lehner & Pretorias 2015, p. 383
  18. ^ Cox 1997, pp. 83, 91, 102–103
  19. ^ "Los Alamos National Laboratory – Sodium". Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  20. ^ "Los Alamos National Laboratory – Aluminum". Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  21. ^ Avnir, David (2014). "Molecularly doped metals". Acc. Chem. Res. 47 (2): 579–592. doi:10.1021/ar4001982. 
  22. ^ a b The Recycling Rates of Metals: A Status Report Archived 2016-01-01 at the Wayback Machine. 2010, International Resource Panel, United Nations Environment Programme
  23. ^ Tread lightly: Aluminium attack Carolyn Fry,, 22 February 2008.
  24. ^ Metal Stocks in Society: Scientific Synthesis Archived 2016-01-01 at the Wayback Machine. 2010, International Resource Panel, United Nations Environment Programme
  25. ^ Tylecote, R. F. (1992). A History of Metallurgy, Second Edition. London: Maney Publishing, for the Institute of Materials. ISBN 1-902653-79-3. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. 
  26. ^ Thornton, C.; Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C.; Liezers, M.; Young, S.M.M. (2002). "On pins and needles: tracing the evolution of copper-based alloying at Tepe Yahya, Iran, via ICP-MS analysis of Common-place items". Journal of Archaeological Science. 29 (12): 1451–1460. doi:10.1006/jasc.2002.0809. 
  27. ^ Kaufman, Brett. "Metallurgy and Archaeological Change in the Ancient Near East". Backdirt: Annual Review. 2011: 86. 
  28. ^ John Maxson Stillman, The Story of Early Chemistry D. Appleton (1924)
  29. ^ Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica (1556) Tr. Herbert Clark Hoover & Lou Henry Hoover (1912); Footnote quoting De Natura Fossilium (1546), p. 180

Further reading

  • Parish R. V. 1977, The Metallic Elements, Longman, London, ISBN 978-0-582-44278-8
  • Raymond R. 1984, Out of the Fiery Furnace: The Impact of Metals on the History of Mankind, Macmillan Australia, Melbourne, ISBN 978-0-333-38024-6
  • Russell A. M. & Lee K. L. 2005, Structure–Property Relations in Nonferrous Metals, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, ISBN 978-0-471-64952-6
  • Street A. & Alexander W. 1998, Metals in the Service of Man (11th ed.), Penguin Books, London, ISBN 978-0-14-025776-2

External links