Copper has a history of about 10,000 years. It was in around 9000 BC that copper was discovered. Gold and iron were the only metals in use before the discovery of copper. Eventually, processes of copper smelting were developed at different times in different parts of the world. Today, copper is largely used in heat and electric conductors and as a building material. Copper forms a part of many of the important metal alloys in use today. Let us look at the chemical properties of this metal.
Copper is found in the mineral form. Sulfides like chalcopyrite and chalcocite are important sources of copper. It is also obtained from oxides like cuprite and carbonates like azurite.
The chemical symbol of copper is Cu. It has an atomic number 29. It belongs to the family of gold and silver in the periodic table of elements. The resemblance of its electron structure with that of gold and silver places it in their family.
Copper does not react with water. When in contact with oxygen in the air, it forms copper oxide. If it comes in contact with other metals in the presence of moisture, it can form an electrochemical cell with the metal in its contact.
With ammonia solutions, copper forms water-soluble copper complexes. With oxygen and hydrochloric acid, copper forms copper chlorides.
Copper has 29 isotopes. 63Cu and 65Cu and naturally occurring, stable elements while the other isotopes of copper are radioactive. They do not occur naturally.
As of 2005, Chile contributes to one-third of the world's production of copper. USA, Indonesia, and Peru are among the other largest producers of copper.
Copper is one of the trace nutrients found in the bodies of plants and animals. In animals, traces of copper are found in the bloodstream as also in enzymes and copper-based pigments. In higher quantities, it can prove being poisonous to the living organisms.
Copper possesses ductility and electrical conductivity. In terms of electrical and thermal conductivity, copper is second to silver. It is also a malleable metal.
It possesses germicidal properties. Anti-germ copper surfaces are largely used to provide certain constructions with anti-bacterial properties. This anti-germ property of copper is used in the construction material of hospitals.
Copper finds applications in the chemical, biomedical, and the electronics industries. Many copper compounds and alloys are used widely in the manufacture of household as well as industrial products. The discovery of copper has indeed proven to be a boon to mankind.