What is copper?
We explain what copper is and what the properties of this element are. In addition, its various uses and applications.
What is copper?
The metallic chemical element represented by the symbol Cu is called copper (since its name comes from the Latin cuprum , in turn from the Greek kypros ) and atomic number 29, which together with gold and silver makes up the so-called family of the Copper from the Periodic Table of the Elements.
Copper is a transition metal, bright and reddish in color, characterized by being one of the best known conductors of electricity (after silver). If we add to this its lightness, high malleability, ductility and economic price , we will have one of the most suitable elements for the manufacture of tools, packaging, electrical and electronic parts, and many other industrial uses.
This is why copper was one of the first elements to be used by the prehistoric human being , which discovered its usefulness in alloy with tin, so much so that the Copper Age is called the Calcolytic or Eneolithic period (which goes from the Bronze Age Neolithic) of human history.
Copper is an extremely abundant element in nature, which plays a vital role in the photosynthetic processes of plants, as well as cell, nervous, bone and immune maintenance in vertebrate animals .
It is found in foods such as shellfish and crustaceans, legumes, nuts or guts, so their dietary deficiency is not common (which causes the so-called Wilson’s disease).
Properties of copper
Copper has the following physicochemical properties:
- It has a bright reddish color, except in alloys with other metals . When exposed to the air , salmon red is shown, until a violet-colored cuprous oxide (Cu2O) layer is formed. Finally it can blacken as cupric oxide (CuO) is formed.
- Huge thermal and electrical conductivity , only surpassed by silver (Ag). It is also resistant to corrosion and oxidation . It does not respond well to magnetic forces or fields (it is diamagnetic).
- It is economical and can be recycled indefinitely. It is extremely ductile and malleable, so it can be easily machined: make thin sheets or threads, since it is a soft metal.
- When it is exposed to moisture for a long time, it forms an impermeable layer of cupric carbonate (CuCO3) of greenish color, which is highly toxic. It also forms a patina called cardenillo or verdín (a mixture of copper acetates) that usually covers the statues and is extremely poisonous.
- Despite being a necessary trace element for life, excessive copper intake can also lead to internal damage and death .
Uses and applications of copper
Copper is the third most consumed metal in the world today , after iron and aluminum, since its applications in the electrical, electronic and steel industry are very numerous. Some of the most common are:
- E lectrical , electronics and telecommunications . Copper is used as an electrical conductor in the manufacture of electrical and coaxial cables, as well as inside generators, motors and electrical transformers. Also, integrated circuits and numerous components of contemporary computer systems require copper for their manufacture.
- Transportation . Numerous motor vehicles require copper for their parts and spare parts, such as radiators, brakes and bearings, in addition to the necessary wiring for electrical components. It is also used in alloys to make parts of the hull of ships.
- Currency manufacturing s . Most of the world’s currencies are made of copper in various alloys with nickel, tin and other metals, such as aluminum or bronze.
- Construction and decoration . Due to its corrosion resistance, copper and brass are used instead of traditional lead in most water pipes , both residential and industrial or commercial. This is because lead is harmful to health and copper is a common architectural material. It is also used for door knobs, for statues of squares, church bells and for a large segment of the construction sector.
- Alloys and by-products . Copper also serves as an input in obtaining more specific metals, such as brass (Cu + Zn), bronze (Cu + Sn), alpaca (Cu + Ni + Zn), or in the production of wire rod, from electric batteries, etc.