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Aluminum: The Element

Aluminum: The Element
Every element has its own unique features and applications. The following article provides information regarding some basic facts of the element called aluminum.
Kundan Pandey
Last Updated: Mar 9, 2018
Elements have made life easier and more comfortable for man. Aluminum, which is a post-transitional element, has played a crucial role in the evolution of mankind. Since many ages, it has been one of the most widely used metals in the world. Available in abundance in the nature, it is an integral part of the industrial sectors.
The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese used aluminum-bearing clay to make pottery. Even Napoleon owned a set of cutlery that was made out of this metal, to serve his honored guests.
In 1761, De Morveau suggested the name "alumine" for the base in alum. Later, in 1808, Sir Humphry Davy established the existence of aluminum. In 1825, a Danish physicist and chemist, Henry Christian Oersted, generated minute quantities of this metal. He chemically caused a reaction between dilute potassium amalgam and anhydrous aluminum chloride. The mercury residue was distilled to produce pure aluminum.
In 1827, Freidrich Wohler obtained this element by a different process, and in 1854, a French scientist improved Wohler's way of producing it. This started the first commercial production of this metal. It became more precious than gold or platinum, and was displayed in exhibitions at Paris. Since then, it has been used in almost all industries, and is an important commercial element. In 1886, two young scientists, Charles Heroult and Martin Hall, obtained it using aluminum oxide (alumina). Today, this method forms the basis of all aluminum production companies. With further growth and expansion, new companies producing it were formed. The 20th century was known as the "aluminum century".
It is a lightweight, ductile, and malleable metal. In appearance, it looks silver-white. Its atomic number is 13, and it is represented by the symbol Al. It is a p-block element, placed in the 3rd period and the 13th group of the periodic table. In the Earth's crust, it is the 3rd most abundant element after oxygen and silicon. It is the most abundant metallic element, and is a very good thermal and electrical conductor; in fact, a better one than copper. It can also be transformed into a super conductor, with the help of suitable temperature and pressure conditions.
One of the peculiar features of aluminum in the paint industries is that it has an excellent silvery reflectance in a finely powdered form; hence, it's the best choice for silver paints. It is a highly reactive element, and forms a strong chemical bond with oxygen. Still, its resistance to corrosion is good, as it forms a very thin layer of aluminum oxide, when it reacts with air. This prevents it from corrosion. The atomic arrangement of this element is in the form of a cubic structure. It is non-magnetic in nature.
Aluminum is widely used in aircraft and shipping industries, as it is light in weight with a specific gravity of 2.70. It is also used in trucks, railways, automobiles, and bicycles. It is used in the production of beer cans and soft drink cans, cooking utensils, and metal foils. Heat sinks, which provide insulation to CPU's and transistors, are made up of aluminum. Electrical transmission lines also use this element for power distribution. It is also used in the blades of swords, knives, and other weapons.
Many aluminum compounds are widely used in different industries. Aluminum ammonium sulfate is used in water purification, food industry, and paper production. Aluminum borohydride is used as a jet fuel. Aluminum fluorosilicate is used in the production of synthetic gemstones, ceramics, and glasses. Aluminum sulfate is used as a fire extinguisher. Many other compounds of this element are also used as antacids, in cements, cosmetics, and varnishes.
Hazardous Effects on Health
Despite its amazing natural abundance, it does not play any significant role in the processes involving living cells. Instead, if consumed, it can be risky for your body. Though kitchen wares are made out of it, only direct consumption can affect our body. The antacids of the element can lead to vomiting and allergies. It has been found to affect the bones and the central nervous system. High intake of dietary aluminum can lead to reduced skeletal mineralization called osteopenia, which is observed in premature babies, and infants with growth retardation. High intake can also lead to neurotoxicity.
With some awareness, we can keep an eye on any aluminum-related problems, and also reap maximum benefits from this natural resource, in the best possible way.
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