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A number of characteristics distinguish metals, including their shiny appearance, as well as their ability to be bent into various shapes without breaking. In addition, metals tend to be highly efficient conductors of heat and electricity. The vast majority of elements on the periodic table are metals, and most of these fall into one of five families: alkali metals; alkaline earth metals; the very large transition metals family; and the inner transition metal families, known as the lanthanides and actinides. In addition, there are seven "orphans," or metals that do not belong to a larger family of elements: aluminum, gallium, indium, thallium, tin, lead, and bismuth. Some of these may be unfamiliar to most readers; on the other hand, a person can hardly spend a day without coming into contact with aluminum. Tin is a well-known element as well, though much of what people call "tin" is not really tin. Lead, too, is widely known, and once was widely used as well; today, however, it is known primarily for the dangers it poses to human health.


General Properties of Metals

Metals are lustrous or shiny in appearance, and malleable or ductile, meaning that they can be molded into different shapes without breaking. Despite their ductility, metals are extremely durable and have high melting and boiling points. They are excellent conductors of heat and electricity, and tend to form positive ions by losing electrons.

The bonds that metals form with each other, or with nonmetals, are known as ionic bonds, which are the strongest type of chemical bond. Even within a metal, however, there are extremely strong bonds. Therefore, though it is easy to shape metals (that is, to slide the atoms in a metal past one another), it is very difficult to separate metal atoms. Their internal bonding is thus very strong, but nondirectional.

Internal bonding in metals is described by the electron sea model, which depicts metal atoms as floating in a "sea" of valence electrons, the electrons involved in bonding. These valence electrons are highly mobile within the crystalline structure of the metal, and this mobility helps to explain metals' high conductivity. The ease with which metal crystals allow themselves to be rearranged explains not only metals' ductility, but also their ability to form alloys, a mixture containing one or more metals.

Abundance of Metals

Metals constitute a significant portion of the elements found in Earth's crust, waters, and atmosphere.

The following list shows the most abundant metals on Earth, with their ranking among all elements in terms of abundance. Many other metals are present in smaller, though still significant, quantities.

  • 3. Aluminum (7.5%)
  • 4. Iron (4.71%)
  • 5. Calcium (3.39%)
  • 6. Sodium (2.63%)
  • 7. Potassium (2.4%)
  • 8. Magnesium (1.93%)
  • 10. Titanium (0.58%)
  • 13. Manganese (0.09%)

In addition, metals are also important components of the human body. The following list shows the ranking of the most abundant metals among the elements in the body, along with the percentage that each constitutes. As with the quantities of metals on Earth, other metals are present in much smaller, but still critical, amounts.

  • 5. Calcium (1.4%)
  • 7. Magnesium (0.50%)
  • 8. Potassium (0.34%)
  • 10. Sodium (0.14%)
  • 12. Iron (0.004%)
  • 13. Zinc (0.003%)

Metals on the Periodic Table

On the periodic table of elements, metals fill the left, center, and part of the right-hand side of the chart. The remainder of the right-hand section is taken by nonmetals, which have properties quite different from (and often opposite to) those of metals, as well as metalloids, which display characteristics both of metals and nonmetals. Non-metallic elements are covered in essays on Non-metals; Metalloids; Halogens; Noble Gases; and Carbon. In addition, hydrogen, the one nonmetal on the left side of the periodic tablefirst among the elements, in the upper left corneris also discussed in its own essay.

The total number of metals on the periodic table is 87in other words, about 80% of all known elements. These include the six alkali metals, which occupy Group 1 of the periodic table, as well as the six alkaline earth metals, or Group 2. To the right of these are the 40 transition metals, whose groups are unnumbered in the North American version of the periodic table. Among the transition metals are two elements, lanthanum and actinium, often lumped in with the families of inner transition metals that exhibit similar properties. These are, respectively, the 14 lanthanides and 14 actinides. In addition, there are the seven "orphan" metals of periods 3 through 5, mentioned in the introduction to this essay, which will be discussed below.

The various families of elements are defined, not so much by external characteristics as by the configurations of valence electrons in their atoms' shells. This subject will not be discussed in any depth here; instead, the reader is encouraged to consult essays on the specific metal families, which discuss the electron configurations of each.


Alkali Metals

The members of the alkali metal family are distinguished by the fact that they have a valence electron configuration of s1 This means that they tend to bond easily with other substances. Alkali metals tend to form positive ions, or cations, with a charge of 1+.

In contact with water, alkali metals form a negatively charged hydroxide ion (OH). When alkali metals react with water, one hydrogen atom splits off from the water molecule to form hydrogen gas, while the other hydrogen atom remains bonded to the oxygen, forming hydroxide. Where the heavier members of the alkali metal family are concerned, reactions can often be so vigorous that the result is combustion or even explosion. Alkali metals also react with oxygen to produce either an oxide, peroxide, or superoxide, depending on the particular member of the alkali metal family involved.

Shiny and soft enough to be cut with a knife, the alkali metals are usually white, though cesium is a yellowish white. When placed in a flame, most of these substances produce characteristic colors: lithium, for instance, glows bright red, and sodium an intense yellow. Heated potassium produces a violet color, rubidium a dark red, and cesium a light blue. This makes it possible to identify the metals by color when heateda useful trait, since they so often tend to be bonded with other elements.

The alkali metals, listed below by atomic number and chemical symbol, are:

  • 3. Lithium (Li)
  • 11. Sodium (Na)
  • 19. Potassium (K)
  • 37. Rubidium (Rb)
  • 55. Cesium (Cs)
  • 87. Francium (Fr)

Alkaline Earth Metals

Occupying Group 2 of the periodic table are the alkaline earth metals, which have a valence electron configuration of s2. Like the alkali metals, the alkaline earth metals are known for their high reactivitya tendency for bonds between atoms or molecules to be made or broken in such a way that materials are transformed. Thus they are seldom found in pure form, but rather in compounds with other elementsfor example, salts, a term that generally describes a compound consisting of a metal and a nonmetal.

The alkaline earth metals are also like the alkali metals in that they have the properties of a base as opposed to an acid. An acid is a substance that, when dissolved in water, produces positive ions of hydrogen, designated symbolically as H+ ions. It is thus known as a proton donor. A base, on the other hand, produces negative hydroxide ions when dissolved in water. These are designated by the symbol OH. Bases are therefore characterized as proton acceptors.

The alkaline earth metals are shiny, and most are white or silvery in color. Like their "cousins" in the alkali metal family, they glow with characteristic colors when heated. Calcium glows orange, strontium a very bright red, and barium an apple green. Physically they are soft, though not as soft as the alkali metals; nor are their levels of reactivity as great as those of their neighbors in Group 1.

The alkaline earth metals, listed below by atomic number and chemical symbol, are:

  • 4. Beryllium (Be)
  • 12. Magnesium (Mg)
  • 20. Cadmium (Ca)
  • 38. Strontium (Sr)
  • 56. Barium (Ba)
  • 88. Radium (Ra)

Transition Metals

The transition metals are the only elements that fill the dorbitals. They are also the only elements that have valence electrons on two different principal energy levels. This sets them apart from the representative or main-group elements, of which the alkali metals and alkaline earth metals are a part. The transition metals also follow irregular patterns of orbital filling, which further distinguish them from the representative elements.

Other than that, there is not much that differentiates the transition metals, a broad grouping that includes precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum, as well as highly functional metals such as iron, manganese, and zinc. Many of the transition metals, particularly those on periods 4, 5, and 6, form useful alloys with one another, and with other elements. Because of their differences in valence electron configuration, however, they do not always combine in the same ways, even within an element. Iron, for instance, sometimes releases two electrons in chemical bonding, and at other times three.


There is no easy way to group the transition metals, though some of these elements are traditionally categorized together. These do not constitute "families" as such, but they do provide useful ways to break down the otherwise rather daunting lineup of the transition metals. In two cases, there is at least a relationship between group number on the periodic table and the categories loosely assigned to a collection of transition metals. Thus the "coinage metals"copper, silver, and goldall occupy Group 9 on the IUPAC version of the periodic table. (These have traditionally been associated with one another because their resistance to oxidation, combined with their malleability and beauty, has made them useful materials for fashioning coins.

Likewise the members of the "zinc group"zinc, cadmium, and mercuryon Group 10 on the IUPAC periodic table have often been associated as a miniature unit due to common properties. Members of the "platinum group"platinum, iridium, osmium, palladium, rhodium, and rutheniumoccupy a rectangle on the table, corresponding to periods 5 and 6, and groups 6 through 8. What actually makes them a "group," however, is the fact that they tend to appear together in nature. Iron, nickel, and cobalt, found alongside one another on Period 4, may be grouped together because they are all magnetic to some degree.

The transition metals, listed below by atomic number and chemical symbol, are:

  • 21. Scandium (Sc)
  • 22. Titanium (Ti)
  • 23. Vanadium (V)
  • 24. Chromium (Cr)
  • 25. Manganese (Mn)
  • 26. Iron (Fe)
  • 27. Cobalt (Co)
  • 28. Nickel (Ni)
  • 29. Copper (Cu)
  • 30. Zinc (Zn)
  • 39. Yttrium (Y)
  • 40. Zirconium (Zr)
  • 41. Niobium (Nb)
  • 42. Molybdenum (Mo)
  • 43. Technetium (Tc)
  • 44. Ruthenium (Ru)
  • 45. Rhodium (Rh)
  • 46. Palladium (Pd)
  • 47. Silver (Ag)
  • 48. Cadmium (Cd)
  • 57. Lanthanum (La)
  • 72. Hafnium (Hf)
  • 73. Tantalum (Ta)
  • 74. Tungsten (W)
  • 75. Rhenium (Re)
  • 76. Osmium (Os)
  • 77. Iridium (Ir)
  • 78. Platinum (Pt)
  • 79. Gold (Au)
  • 80. Mercury (Hg)
  • 89. Actinium (Ac)
  • 104. Rutherfordium (Rf)
  • 105. Dubnium (Db)
  • 106. Seaborgium (Sg)
  • 107. Bohrium (Bh)
  • 108. Hassium (Hs)
  • 109. Meitnerium (Mt)
  • 110. Ununnilium (Uun)
  • 111. Unununium (Uuu)
  • 112. Ununbium (Uub)

The last nine, along with 11 of the actinides, are part of the list of metals known collectively as the transuranium elementsthat is, elements with atomic numbers higher than 92. These have all been produced artificially, in most cases within a laboratory. Note that the last three had not been named as of 2001: the "names" by which they are known simply mean, respectively, 110, 111, and 112.


The lanthanides are the first of two inner transition metal groups. Note that in the list of transition metals above, lanthanum (57) is followed by hafnium (72). The "missing" group of 14 elements, normally shown at the bottom of the periodic table, is known as the lanthanides, a family which can be defined by the fact that all fill the 4f orbital. However, because lanthanum (which does not fill an f orbital) exhibits similar properties, it is usually included with the lanthanides.

Bright and silvery in appearance, many of the lanthanidesthough they are metalsare so soft they can be cut with a knife. They also tend to be highly reactive. Though they were once known as the "rare earth metals," lanthanides only seemed rare because they were difficult to extract from compounds containing other substancesincluding other lanthanides. Because their properties are so similar, and because they tend to be found together in the same substances, the original isolation and identification of the lanthanides was an arduous task that took well over a century.

The lanthanides (in addition to lanthanum, listed earlier with the transition metals), are:

  • 58. Cerium (Ce)
  • 59. Praseodymium (Pr)
  • 60. Neodymium (Nd)
  • 61. Promethium (Pm)
  • 62. Samarium (Sm)
  • 63. Europium (Eu)
  • 64. Gadolinium (Gd)
  • 65. Terbium (Tb)
  • 66. Dysprosium (Dy)
  • 67. Holmium (Ho)
  • 68. Erbium (Er)
  • 69. Thulium (Tm)
  • 70. Ytterbium (Yb)
  • 71. Lutetium (Lu)


Just as lanthanum is followed on the periodic table by an element with an atomic number 15 points higher, so actinium (89) is followed by rutherfordium (104). The elements in the "gap" are the other inner transition family, the actinides, which all fill the 5f orbital. These are placed below the lanthanides at the bottom of the chart, and just as lanthanum is included with the lanthanides, even though it does not fill an f orbital, so actinium is usually lumped in with the actinides due to similarities in properties.

Most of the actinides tend to be unstable or radioactive, the later ones highly so. The first three members of the group (not counting actinium) occur in nature, while the other 11 are transuranium elements created artificially. In most cases, these were produced with a cyclotron or other machine for accelerating atoms, generally at the research center of the University of California at Berkeley during a period from 1940 to 1961. Einsteinium and fermium, however, were by-products of nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll in the south Pacific in 1952. The principal use of the actinides is in nuclear applicationsweaponry or power plantsthough some of them also have specialized uses as well.

The actinides (in addition to actinium, listed earlier with the transition metals), are:

  • 90. Thorium (Th)
  • 91. Protactinium (Pa)
  • 92. Uranium (U)
  • 93. Neptunium (Np)
  • 94. Plutonium (Pu)
  • 95. Americium (Am)
  • 96. Curium (Cm)
  • 97. Berkelium (Bk)
  • 98. Californium (Cf)
  • 99. Einsteinium (Es)
  • 100. Fermium (Fm)
  • 101. Mendelevium (Md)
  • 102. Nobelium (No)
  • 103. Lawrencium (Lr)

"Orphan" Metals

Seven other metals remain to be discussed. These are the "orphan" metals, which appear in groups 3, 4, and 5 of the North American periodic table (13, 14, and 15 of the IUPAC table), and they are called "orphans" simply because none belongs to a clearly defined family. Sometimes aluminum and the three elements below it in Group 3gallium, indium, and thalliumare lumped together as the "aluminum family." This is not a widely recognized distinction, but will be used here only for the purpose of giving some form of organization to the "orphan" elements.

Though they do not belong to families, the "orphan" metals are nonetheless highly important. Aluminum, after all, is the most abundant of all metals on Earth, and has wide applications in daily life. Tin, too, is widely known, as is lead. Somewhat less recognizable is bismuth, but it appears in a product with which most Americans are familiar: Pepto-Bismol.

The seven "orphans" are listed below, along with atomic number and chemical symbol:

  • 13. Aluminum (Al)
  • 31. Gallium (Ga)
  • 49. Indium (In)
  • 50. Tin (Sn)
  • 81. Thallium (Tl)
  • 82. Lead (Pb)
  • 83. Bismuth (Bi)


Named after alum, a salt known from ancient times and used by the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, aluminum is so reactive that it proved difficult to isolate. Only in 1825 did Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted (1777-1851) isolate an impure version of aluminum metal, using a complicated four-step process. Two years later, German chemist Friedrich Wöhler (1800-1882) obtained pure aluminum from a reaction of metallic potassium with aluminum chloride, or AlCl3.

For years thereafter, aluminum continued to be so difficult to produce that it acquired the status of a precious metal. European kings displayed treasures of aluminum as though they were gold or silver, and by 1855, it was selling for about $100,000 a pound. Then in 1886, French metallurgist Paul-Louis-Toussaint Héroult (1863-1914) and American chemist Charles Martin Hall (1863-1914) independently developed a process that made aluminum relatively easy to extract by means of electrolysis. Thanks to what became known as the Hall-Héroult process, the price of aluminum dropped to around 30 cents a pound.

America's aluminum comes primarily from mines in Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, where it often appears in a clay called kaolin, used in making porcelain. Aluminum can also be found in deposits of feldspar, mica, granite, and other clays. The principal sources of aluminum outside the United States include France, Surinam, Jamaica, and parts of Africa.


Though aluminum is highly reactive, it does not corrode in moist air. Instead of forming rust the way iron does, it forms a thin, hard, invisible coating of aluminum oxide. This, along with its malleability, makes it highly useful for producing cans and other food containers. The World Trade Center Towers in New York City gleam with a corrosion-resistant covering of aluminum. Likewise the element is used as a coating for mirrors: not only is it cheaper than silver, but unlike silver, it does not tarnish and turn black. Also, a thin coating of metallic aluminum gives Mylar balloons their silvery sheen.

Aluminum conducts electricity about 60% as well as copper, meaning that it is an extraordinarily good conductor, useful for transmitting electrical power. Because it is much more lightweight than copper and highly ductile, it is often used in high-voltage electric lines. Its conductivity also makes aluminum a favorite material for kitchen pots and pans. Unlike copper, it is not known to be toxic; however, because aluminum dissolves in strong acids, sometimes tomatoes and other acidic foods acquire a "metallic" taste when cooked in an aluminum pot.

Though it is soft in its pure form, when combined with copper, manganese, silicon, magnesium, and/or zinc, aluminum can produce strong, highly useful alloys. These find application in automobiles, airplanes, bridges, highway signs, buildings, and storage tanks. Aluminum's high ductility also makes it the metal of choice for foil wrappingsthat is, aluminum foil. Compounds containing aluminum are used in a wide range of applications, including antacids; antiperspirants (potassium aluminum sulfate tends to close up sweat-gland ducts); and water purifiers.

Other Elements in the Aluminum Group


When Russian chemist Dmitri Ivanovitch Mendeleev (1834-1907) created the periodic table in 1869, he predicted the existence of several missing elements on the basis of "holes" between elements on the table. Among these was what he called "eka-aluminum," discovered in the 1870s by French chemist Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1838-1912). Bois-baudran named the new element gallium, after the ancient name of his homeland, Gaul.

Gallium will melt if held in the hand, and remains liquid over a large range of temperaturesfrom 85.6°F (29.76°C) to 3,999.2°F (2,204°C). This makes it highly useful for thermometers with a large temperature range. Used in a number of applications within the electronics industry, gallium is present in the compounds gallium arsenide and gallium phosphide, applied in lasers, solar cells, transistors, and other solid-state devices.


As Bois-baudran would later do, German mineralogists Ferdinand Reich (1799-1882) and Hieronymus Theodor Richter (1824-1898) used a method called spectroscopy to discover one of the aluminum-group metals. Spectroscopy involves analyzing the frequencies of light (that is, the colors) emitted by an item of matter.

However, Reich faced a problem when studying the zinc ores that he believed contained a new element: he was colorblind. Therefore he called on the help of Richter, his assistant. In 1863, they discovered an element they called indium because of the indigo blue color it emitted. Reich later tried to claim that he made the discovery alone, but Richter's role is indisputable.

Indium is used in making alloys, one of which is a combination with gallium that is liquid at room temperature. Its alloys are used in bearings, dental amalgams, and nuclear control roles. Various compounds are applied in solid-state electronics devices, and in electronics research.

Two years before the discovery of indium, English physicist William Crookes (1832-1919) discovered another element using spectroscopic analysis. This was thallium, named after the Greek word thallos ("green twig"), a reference to a lime-green spectral line that told Crookes he had found a new element. Thallium is applied in electronic equipment, and the compound thallium sulfate is used for killing ants and rodents.

Three Other "Orphans"


Known from ancient times, tin was combined with copper to make bronzean alloy so significant it defines an entire stage of human technological development. Tin's chemical symbol, Sn, refers to the name the Romans gave it: stannum. Just as tin added to copper gave bronze its strength, alloys of tin with copper and antimony created pewter, a highly useful, malleable material for pots and dinnerware popular from the thirteenth century through the early nineteenth century.

Tin is found primarily in Bolivia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Zaire, and Nigeriaa wide geographical range. Like aluminum today, it has been widely used as a coating for other metals to retard corrosion. Hence the term "tin can," referring to a steel can coated with tin. Also, tin has been used to coat iron or steel roofs, but because zinc is cheaper, it is now most often the coating of choice; nonetheless, these are still typically called "tin roofs."


Due to knowledge of its toxic properties, lead is not frequently used today, but this was not always the case. The Romans, for instance, used plumbum as they called it (hence the chemical symbol Pb) as a material for making water pipes. This is the root of our own word plumber. (The same root explains the verb plumb or the noun plumb bob. A plumb bob is a lead weight, hung from a string, used to ensure that the walls of a structure are "plumb"that is, perpendicular to the foundation.) Many historians believe that plumbum in the Romans' water supply was one of the reasons behind the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

The human body can only excrete very small quantities of lead a day, and this is particularly true of children. Even in small concentrations, lead can cause elevation of blood pressure; reduction in the synthesis of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the blood and organs; and decreased ability to utilize vitamin D and calcium for strengthening bones. Higher concentrations of lead can effect the central nervous system, resulting in decreased mental functioning and hearing damage. Prolonged exposure can result in a coma or even death.

Before these facts became widely known in the late twentieth century, lead was applied as an ingredient in paint. In addition, it was used in water pipes, and as an anti-knock agent in gasolines. Increased awareness of the health hazards involved have led to a discontinuation of these practices. (Note that pencil "lead" is actually graphite, a form of carbon.)

Lead, however, is used for absorbing radiationfor instance, as a shield against X rays. Another important use for lead today is in storage batteries. Yet another "application" of lead relates to its three stable isotopes (lead206, 207, and 208), the end result of radioactive decay on the part of various isotopes of uranium and other radioactive elements.


During the Middle Ages, when a number of unscientific ideas prevailed, scholars believed that lead eventually became tin, tin eventually turned into bismuth, and bismuth developed into silver. Hence they referred to bismuth as "roof of silver." Only in the sixteenth century did German metallurgist Georgius Agricola (George Bauer; 1494-1555) put forward the idea that bismuth was a separate element.

Bismuth appears in nature not only in its elemental form, but also in a number of compounds and ores. It is also obtained as a by-product from the smelting of gold, silver, copper, and lead. Because bismuth expands dramatically when it cools, early printers used a bismuth alloy to make metal type. When poured into forms cut with the shapes of letters and other characters, the alloy produced symbols with clear, sharp edges.

Wood's metal is a bismuth alloy involving cadmium, tin, and lead, which melts at a temperature of 158°F (70°C). This makes it useful for automatic sprinkler systems inside a building: when a fire breaks out, it melts the Wood's metal seal, and turns on the sprinklers. Bismuth compounds are applied in cosmetics, paints, and dyes, and prior to the twentieth century, compounds of bismuth were widely used for treating sexually transmitted diseases. Today, antibiotics have largely taken their place, but bismuth still has one well-known medicinal application: in bismuth subsalicylate, better known by the brand name Pepto-Bismol.


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Those transition metalsthat fill the 5f orbital. Because actiniumwhich does not fill the f orbitalexhibits characteristics similar to those of the actinides, it is usually considered part of the actinides family.


All members, ex-cepthydrogen, of Group 1 on the periodic table of elements, with valence electron configurations of ns1.


Group 2 on the periodic table of elements, with valence electron configurations of ns2.


A mixture containing more than one metal.


The ability to conduct heat or electricity. Metals are noted for their high levels of conductivity.


A term describing an internal structure in which the constituent parts have a simple and definite geometric arrangement, repeated in all directions. Metals have a crystalline structure.


Capable of being bent or molded into various shapes without breaking.


A widely accepted model of internal bonding within metals, which depicts metal atoms as floating in a "sea" of valence electrons.


Columns on the periodic table of elements. These are ordered according to the numbers of valence electrons in the outer shells of the atoms for the elements represented.


The lanthanides and actinides, both of which fill the f orbitals. For this reason, they are usually treated as distinct from the transition metals.


An atom or group of atoms that has lost or gained one or more electrons, and thus has a net electric charge.


Atoms that have an equal number of protons, and hence are of the same element, but differ in their number of neutrons. This results in a difference ofmass. Isotopes may be either stable or unstable. The latter type, known as radioisotopes, are radioactive.


A version of the periodic table of elements, authorized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which numbers all groups on the table from 1 to 18. Thus in the IUPAC system, in use primarily outside of North America, both the representative or main-group elements and the transition metals are numbered.


The transition metalsthat fill the 4f orbital. Because lanthanumwhich does not fill the f orbitalexhibits characteristics similar to those of the lanthanides, it is usually considered part of the lanthanide family.


A collection of 87 elements that includes numerous familiesthe alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, transition metals, lanthanides, and actinides, as well as seven elements in groups 3 through5 of the North American system periodic table. Metals are lustrous or shiny inappearance, and ductile. They are excellent conductors of heat and electricity, and tend to form positive ions by losing electrons.


A version of the periodic table of elements that only numbers groups of elements in which the number of valence electrons equals the group number. Hence the transition metalsare usually not numbered in this system.


A pattern of probabilities regarding the position of an electron for anatom in a particular energy state. The higher the principal energy level, the more complex the pattern of orbitals.


A chart that shows the elements arranged in order of atomic number, along with chemical symbol and the average atomic mass for that particular element. Elements are arranged in groups or columns, as well as in rows or periods, according to specific aspects of their valence electron configurations.


Rows on the periodic table of elements. These represent successive principal energy levels for the valence electrons in the atoms of the elements involved.


A value indicating the distance that an electron may move away from the nucleus of anatom. This is designated by a whole-number integer, beginning with 1 and moving upward. The higher the principal energy level, the greater the energy in the atom, and the more complex the pattern of orbitals.


A term describing a phenomenon whereby certain isotopes known as radioisotopes are subject to a form of decay brought about by the emission of high-energy particles. "Decay" does not mean that the isotope "rots"; rather, it decays to form another isotope until eventually (though this may take a long time) it becomes stable.


The tendency for bonds between atoms or molecules to be made or broken in such a way that materials aretransformed.


The 44 elements in Groups 1 through 8 on the North American version of periodic table of elements, for which the number of valence electrons equals the group number. (The only exception is helium.) The alkali metals and alkaline earth metals are representative elements; all other metals are not.


Generally, a salt is any compound that brings together a metal and a nonmetal. Salts are produced, along with water, in the reaction of an acid and a base.


A group of 40 elements (counting lanthanum and actinium), which are not assigned a group number in the version of the periodic table of elements known as the North Americansystem. These are the only elements that fill the d orbital. In addition, the transition metalsunlike the representative or main-group elementshave their valence electrons on two different principal energy levels. Though the lanthanides and actinides are known as inner transition metals, they are usually treated separately.


Electrons that occupy the highest principal energy level in an atom. These are the electrons involved in chemical bonding.

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Metals are rarely encountered in their elemental state in nature. They must first be extracted from the ground as an ore, which is then treated to release the metal. Some metals may be extracted from their natural state by electrolysis (for example sodium), while others may need more drastic treatment (such as iron or zinc). Precious metals (e.g., gold, silver, platinum) are relatively rare and as a result have a high value in the marketplace.

There are approximately 90 elements that can be described as metals (the number can fluctuate slightly depending upon the precise definition of a metal used to categorize the elements). Regardless, they all have various characteristics in common ranging from bonding to chemical nature.

In general, metals are elements that conduct electricity , are malleable, and are ductile. Another group of elementsthe metalloid or semi-metal elementsshare some properties with the metals and some with the nonmetals. There are eight of these elements and they are semiconductors.

Metals are usually solids at standard temperature and pressure (STP). One exception to this is mercury, which is a liquid at STP. As is to be expected from the fact that most metals are solids at STP, the majority of metals also have melting and boiling points that are high.

Electrical current is not the only thing that metals conduct. They are also efficient conductors of heat.

Metals have a shape that can be easily changed by hammering (i.e., they are malleable). Metals are also ductile (i.e., they can be drawn out into a long wire). With the exception of gold and copper, metals are silvery gray in color and all metals take a polish well.

Chemically, the atoms of a metallic element are bonded to their neighbors by metallic bonds, producing a giant metallic lattice structure. Metallic elements have relatively few electrons in their outermost shells. When metallic bonds are formed, these outermost electrons are lost into a pool of free or mobile electrons. Thus, the metallic lattice structure is actually comprised of positive ions packed closely together and a pool of freely moving electrons surrounding them. These free electrons are referred to as delocalized because they are not restricted to orbiting one particular ion or atom . This pool of delocalized electrons allows a metal to conduct an electrical charge because the electrons are free to move. Alloys also have this type of bonding, allowing them to conduct electricity as well. For this same reason metals are also good conductors of heat.

The close packing of the metal ions (the ions are packed as close as they can possibly be) explains the high density of the majority of the metals. A metal with a high molecular mass will have a greater density than one with a lower molecular mass even though their atomic radii may be similar. Lead and aluminum have similar atomic sizes, but lead has a much larger molecular mass and consequently it has a much higher density.

The malleability of metals is due to the regular arrangement of ions within the metallic lattice. The bonds holding the lattice in place are strong, but they are somewhat flexible. Layers of ions can slip over each other without the structure of the molecule being destroyed. This also explains why metals are ductile. Both of these characteristics are more noticeable when the metal is hot. The metallic lattice is also responsible for the appearance of some metals. When a metal is examined under a microscope, it is seen to have a crystalline structure that is made of regions called grains. The smaller the grain size the more closely packed are the ions of the metal and the stronger and harder it is. If hot metal is allowed to cool slowly, the resulting grains are large, making a metal that is easy to shape. This process is known as annealing. When a hot metal is cooled quickly, the crystals produced are small. When this cooling is carried out in water , it is called quenching. Quenching will produce a metal that is strong, hard, and brittle.

Many materials are referred to as metals when in fact they are not. The true metals are actually elements, whereas the false metals are alloyscomposites of elements. For example, the element iron is a metal. Steel, however, is not a true metal, since it is an alloy containing a mixture of iron and carbonthe relative ratios of the two materials control the physical characteristics of the product. Alloys have different properties than the materials from which they are produced, so by careful blending the exact properties required can be manufactured.

Metals have a wide range of uses. For example, copper is used to conduct electricity in cables (an excellent conductor and very ductile). Tin is used to coat cans for food storage (non-poisonous and corrosion resistant). Aluminum is used as kitchen foil (high malleability). Iron is used as a fencing material (easily workable and relatively resistant to corrosion). Alloys made from metals have different uses. Steelan alloy of iron and carbonis used widely in the construction industry because of it great strength and ease with which it can be initially formed to create specific shaped structural components (e.g., beams, girders, etc.) Soldertin and leadis used for joining metals together because of its low melting point. Brasscopper and zincis fashioned into ornaments, buttons, and screws because of its high strength, low weight, and corrosion resistance.

See also Atomic theory; Atoms; Electricity and magnetism; Minerals

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Metals (in Animal Magnetism)

Metals (in Animal Magnetism)

It was claimed by the practitioners of animal magnetism that various metals exercised a characteristic influence on their patients. Physical sensations of heat and cold, numbness, drowsiness, and so on were experienced by the somnambules on contact with metals, or even when metals were secretly introduced into the room. John Elliotson, especially, gave much prominence to the alleged power of metal to transmit the hypothesized magnetic fluid.

Gold, silver, platinum, and nickel were said to be good conductors, although the magnetism conveyed by the latter was of a highly dangerous character. Copper, tin, pewter, and zinc were poor conductors. Elliotson found that a magnetized sovereign (British gold coin) would throw into trance his sensitives, the O'Key sisters, and that although iron would neutralize the magnetic properties of the sovereign, no other metal would do so.

When Baron Karl von Reichenbach propounded his theory of odic force, his sensitives claimed to see a luminous emanation proceed from metalssilver and gold shone white; lead, blue; and nickel, red. Opponents of Reichenbach's theories ascribed such phenomena to suggestion.


Elliotson, John. Human Physiology. London, 1840.

Reichenbach, Karl von. Letters on Od and Magnetism. London: Hutchinson, 1926. Reprinted as The Odic Force. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1968.

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270. Metals

docimasy, docimacy
the branch of metallurgy involved in the assaying of ores or metals. See also 190. GREECE and GREEKS .
the study of metals and their structures and properties by the use of microscopy and x rays.
treatment of disease and illness with metals, particularly with the salt forms of metals.
the science of preparing metals for use by separating them from their ores and refining them, as by smelting. metallurgist , n. metallurgie, metallurgical , adj.
the study of metals and their structures by the use of x rays
Rare. the metallurgy of iron and steel.

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