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Facts About Copper: History, Properties, and Uses

Fascinated with metals Nithya Venkat enjoys reading and writing about metals present on Earth.

Copper Tubes

Copper Tubes

Copper is a reddish-brown ductile and malleable metal. It s a good conductor of heat electricity. About two-thirds of copper on earth is found in igneous rocks and about one-quarter occurs in sedimentary rocks.

A major quantity of copper occurs in ores and has to be smelted or extracted from its ore. The name copper is derived from the Latin word “cuprum” which means “from the island of Cyprus.”

The discovery that copper could be combined with tin to form an alloy lead to the Bronze Age. In ancient Egypt, people used copper alloys to make jewelry, tools, vessels, and statues.

History of Copper

Copper has been in use for at least 11,000 years. The Roman Empire obtained most of its copper from the island of Cyprus.

Copper is primarily obtained from ores cuprite, tenorite, malachite, chalcocite, covellite, and bornite. Large deposits of copper ore can be found in the United States, Chile, Zambia, Zaire, Peru, and Canada.

About 5000 years ago, people first learned that copper could be strengthened when combined with other metals. Tin was the first alloy created with a mix of copper.

The two well-known alloys of copper are bronze and brass. Bronze is more rigid than pure copper and iron and far more resistant to corrosion; hence the Egyptians used it to make weapons, armor, tools, and sculptures.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and was used by the Romans to make items such as coins, kettles, and ornaments.

Nowadays, brass is used to make musical instruments, screws, and other hardware that is resistant to corrosion.

Copper on the Periodic Table

Copper on the Periodic Table

Properties of Copper

Copper occurs in nature in a directly usable metallic form. Pure copper is orange-red and acquires a deep reddish-brown tarnish when exposed to air. Most copper is mined or extracted as copper sulfides from large open-pit mines.

Copper falls in group 11 of the periodic table, having one s-orbital electron on top of a filled d-electron shell and is characterized by high ductility, electrical and thermal conductivity. It has an atomic number 29 and an atomic weight of 63.556.

Copper does not react with water, but it slowly reacts with atmospheric oxygen to form a layer of brown-black copper oxide. This layer of brown-black copper oxide protects the underlying metal from further corrosion.

Often a green layer of copper carbonate can be seen on old structures that have copper. For example, the roofs of many old buildings, the surface of the Statue of Liberty, etc. This is due to the reaction of copper with atmospheric oxygen.

Brass and bronze are the most well-known copper-based alloys.

  • brass is mainly copper, and zinc
  • bronze is mainly copper alloyed with metals such as tin, aluminum, silicon, or beryllium
Copper Vessels

Copper Vessels

Uses of Copper

1. Industrial Uses

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Due to its ductility, electrical, and thermal conductivity, copper is used to manufacture electrical conductors, switches, transformers, and telecommunications types of equipment.

Being naturally resistant to weathering and soil erosion makes copper an ideal material for roofing and plumbing applications.

The antimicrobial properties of copper make it an ideal material for the manufacture of doorknobs and railings in hospitals and other public buildings.

Copper wires, tubes, and pipes are the most commonly used building materials in the plumbing and electrical industries.

Copper is also used to manufacture cooking vessels, jugs plates, tumblers, and coins.

2. Copper alloys used in jewelry

Copper is an easily molded base metal often added to precious metals to improve elasticity, flexibility, hardness, color, and corrosion resistance. Therefore, copper is an ideal metal to include in jewelry making.

Gold alloys

Gold is one of the most common alloyed metals with copper. Here are some of the gold alloys that are used to make jewelry-

  • 18k gold
  • 18k palladium white gold
  • 18k rose gold
  • 18k pink gold
  • 18k light green gold

18k gold yellow gold is the most commonly used gold alloy in jewelry-making.

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is also a copper alloy used to make utensils, tableware, and jewelry such as bracelets, cufflinks, rings, and necklaces. Sterling-silver jewelry is hypo-allergenic and skin-friendly and therefore an ideal choice to make silver jewelry.

3. Biological Role of Copper

Copper is an essential microelement found in all living organisms. It is an indispensable trace element in the human body, mainly absorbed in the stomach and small intestine. It is an essential component and catalytic agent of many enzymes and proteins in the body.

Based on the biological functions, researchers in biomaterials have focused on developing novel copper-containing materials that exhibit unique properties in protecting the cardiovascular system, promoting bone fracture healing, and exhibiting antibacterial effects.

Copper is also used in incisional wound healing, killing cancerous cells, PET imaging, radioimmunological tracing, and cancer radiotherapy.

Copper compounds are commonly used in agriculture to treat plant diseases like mildew, for water treatments, and as preservatives for wood and leather fabrics.

4. Copper in the Field of Medicine

Minimizing healthcare-associated infections is of great importance in hospitals. Copper is inherently antimicrobial and effective at fighting bacteria and viruses. It can kill viral pathogens such as influenza A and bacteria such as Escherichia Coli. This property has made copper an essential component of hospital buildings in the manufacture of doorknobs, handles, and other contact surfaces.

Demand for copper is increasing daily due to its vital role in many rapidly growing industries such as electric vehicle batteries and semiconductor wiring.


Science Direct

Copper Development Association Inc.

Springer Link



© 2022 Nithya Venkat

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