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Copper Properties Facts and Photos

tablet of copper

Chemical Compound and Native Element

Copper was the first metal to have been used by man.  Its history can be traced back at least 10,000 years. Copper was also the first metal to be smelted which is the process of extracting a metal from an ore by heating and melting.

Imported by the Roman Empire from Cyprus, copper was originally called 'aes cyprium' meaning 'metal of Cyprus'.  The name was later shortened to 'cuprum.'

Copper is  widely used in industry because it resists corrosion from air, moisture and sea water.  It conducts electricity and heat hence is used in pipes, wiring, heating, cooling applications and cooking pans. 

Copper is widely alloyed with other metals including brass which is copper and zinc.  Bronze is copper, zinc and tin although other elements are often added.  Sterling silver is 7.5% copper 92.5% pure silver.

Even though copper is used as an alloy to strengthen silver it's actually quite soft.  With it being ductile and malleable it hardens after being shaped and hammered.  When heated in can be softened again. 

Whilst most people think of silver as being a metal that tarnishes, in its purest form silver does not tarnish but copper does.  The tarnish that appears on sterling silver is from the copper.

Copper is an important trace element vital for the health of all living organisms.  It can be found in a wide range of foods.

large piece of native copper on display in a museum display cabinet

As well being a chemical compound copper also occurs as a native element.  Known as native copper, this means it occurs naturally without being combined with another element.

Native elements are minerals formed from a single chemical element.  Examples include gold, sulfur and carbon.

By 8000 BC native copper was being used in place of stone.  In ancient Egypt around 3500 BC it was being alloyed with tin to produce bronze.

Most copper is extracted from ores.  An ore is a rock that contains important elements and metals in sufficient quantities to make extracting them worthwhile.  The quantity is usually very small.

The mineral malachite is the oldest ore of copper.  Today chalcopyrite is the most abundant copper ore mineral.

the mineral chalcopyrite

The Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan has one of the world's largest concentrations of native copper.

Prior to 1992 coins in the United Kingdom contained 97% copper.  This meant the 2p coin contained 6.9 grams of copper and the penny 3.45 grams.  As market price increased the amount of copper being used was reduced.  From 1992 1p and 2p coins have been manufactured from steel with only a thin plate of copper.  For this reason they're no longer as valuable as they once were.

Article Photos

Our first photo is courtesy of Stan Celestian. The second was taken by Stone Mania in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Massachusetts. The last photo is chalcopyrite.  Photo courtesy of Ron Wolf.  All three photos are clickable redirect to the original non-compressed image.

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