The Chemical Properties of Copper

the chemical properties of copperCopper is an amazing chemical element that’s been used within society since the ancient days of the Romans. Its reddish-brown color makes it easily recognizable, but this metal is used for far more than just the US penny. Thanks to its versatile chemical properties, copper is used for a wide variety of purposes within our daily lives, most of which go unnoticed. So if you’re interested in copper and similar chemical elements, then feed your curiosity by taking a class on the basics of chemistry from Udemy. It will help you learn about the essential chemicals we use everyday and their unique chemical properties, such as copper.

Physical Properties of Copper

Within the periodic table ––the scientific arrangement of the chemical elements ––copper sits within the same group as gold and silver, making it similar to these precious metals not only in appearance, but function. Unlike silver and gold, however, copper’s physical chemical properties differ in that in its purest form, it is soft and malleable; that is, easily bendable and workable.

Copper’s unique softness comes from its electrons. Every chemical is made of atoms, which are further broken down into three parts: electrons, protons, and neutrons. Electrons are the part of the atom with a negative charge that floats around the middle nucleus of positively charged protons and neutral neutrons in a circular motion. Imagine the way the moon revolves around the earth, and together they revolve around the sun. It’s the same for electrons, protons, and neutrons.

Scientists have given electrons shells, or theoretical orbits, and there are different levels of these shells in which the electrons are layered. The outer shell of copper has a relatively low number of electrons, and this is what gives copper its unique softness. This softness is also what gives copper such a high electronic conductivity as well as a high thermal conductivity, making copper an essential product for producing electronic wires and other such things.

Additionally, along with the elements of gold, cesium, and osmium, copper is one of four elements to not be grey or silver in color. Pure copper is a reddish orange when not exposed to the air. To learn more about the chemical properties of copper, check out one of the intermediate chemistry courses offered on Udemy, which further discusses the various properties of the elements, or a Regents chemistry course for those studying for that specific exam. 

Chemical Properties of Copper

Like other metals, copper oxides whenever it is exposed to the air. That is, the copper reacts to oxygen in the air, not so much the moisture, and it creates a verdigris that cakes onto the copper. This verdigris is not like the rust that forms on iron or other metals, but actually layers, covers, and even protects the copper beneath it.

The misconception is that copper reacts to the water, when really it’s the oxygen in the water that it reacts to. The best example of this is the Statue of Liberty, which was made from pure copper and has since turned into a sea foam greenish color.

Copper also tarnishes when exposed to different sulfides, and thus creates different copper sulfides. These are simply different chemical compounds of sulfur and copper. For more advanced study there is a course specifically for GCSE Chemistry engineered for chemistry students that specializes in how to use chemicals for the production of different products.

Alloys of Copper

Alloys are common mixtures or solid solutions of different elements. The reason for making alloys is because the combining of the different elements with the metal, such as copper, produces a superior product than its pure form giving it better application. For copper, we know that it is a soft, malleable metal. Combining it with other metals or other elements give the usually soft copper a durability that allows it to be used for a number of purposes.

Thus, there is a wide range of different copper alloys that have been used throughout history and are still used today. Some of the most common are bronze and brass. These ––along with other copper alloys of a primarily nickel, lead, or silver combination ––form the basis for roughly 400 different copper alloys. To know more about the metal itself, and how it can be used for exchange-traded fund purposes, read more about copper’s rewarding properties as an investment.

Applications for Copper

As mentioned before, throughout history copper has been mined for its unique chemical properties that give copper a wide variety of functions. Primarily, copper’s physical properties of softness and malleability make it one of the top sought after metals in wire production, if not the first. Its preferred status in electrical wiring remains due to several properties. They are:

  • High electrical conductivity ––copper has a high ability to conduct electric currents
  • Tensile strength ––copper has a high level to endure maximum stress under different amounts of pressure like stretching without breaking or falling apart
  • Ductility ––copper has the ability to be drawn and formed into thin wires
  • Creep (deformation) resistance ––creep, or deformation, is used to describe a metal’s tendency to permanently disfigure over time under stress; copper naturally resists deformation
  • Corrosion resistance ––copper naturally resists corrosion, which is the natural destruction of a metal by its chemical reaction with the environment
  • Low thermal expansion –– under heat transfer, some elements will change in volume, but copper’s thermal expansion is relatively low compared to most
  • High thermal conductivity ––copper has a high ability to conduct heat giving heat transfer a higher rate when done through something like copper wiring
  • Solderability ––a solder is usually a metal alloy used to join two pieces of working metal together, and it needs to have a lower metaling point than the pieces it combines; solderability is the measurement of how easily such a metal can achieve that; copper’s solderability is relatively good, though not excellent
  • Ease of Installation ––copper can be easily installed in whatever capacity it is needed

Because of these listed properties, copper is used in various electronic products such as copper wire for power generation, transmission, and distribution; telecommunications; electronic circuit boards; and other endless possibilities. There’s copper in your heat sinks or heat exchangers, electromagnets, vacuum tubes, microwaves, and more. Copper is now even used in motors.

Beyond it uses for electronic purposes, copper can be for architectural purposes, more than just the Statue of Liberty. Because of its corrosion resistance, it’s been used for roofs, rain gutters, downspouts, domes, and more for thousands of years since ancient times.

Bacteria will also not grow on copper, making it biostatic and thus perfect for a variety antibiofouling and antimicrobial purposes. Copper and its alloys have been used on the hull of ships, to make bed rails, head rails, sinks, faucets, doorknobs, toilet hardware, and other products simply because of its biostatic property.

Copper also has been used in folk medicine, as it is believed to be healing for those with arthritis. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this usage. It is also found naturally within our food, and copper is a dietary substance needed by humans, plants, and animals because of its oxygen transportation abilities. There are also many other uses for copper that have not been mentioned, such as for the production of art, jewelry, musical instruments, etching, engraving, and other things making the list of copper’s applications somewhat endless.

To further study this incredibly adaptable metal and its chemical properties, consider taking a course on the basics of chemistry from Udemy, which can help you further understand the basics of an element like copper and its endless applications because of its unique chemical properties.