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What Makes a Metal?

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Most of the elements in the Periodic Table are metals. Everything to the left of the thick black line is a metal. Metals have specific properties that make them 'metal.'

Most of the elements in the Periodic Table are metals. Everything to the left of the thick black line is a metal. Metals have specific properties that make them 'metal.'

Properties of Metals

Most elements in the Periodic Table are made of Metal. They are very useful in our everyday lives being used in everything from construction to electronics to cookware. But how do you know something is a metal?

  • Shiny - most metals are shiny when freshly cut or polished
  • Thermal Conductors - metals conduct heat very easily
  • Electrical Conductors - metals conduct electricity
  • High Melting and Boiling Points - metals are quite difficult to melt, with the exception of Mercury (which is a liquid at room temperature)
  • Ductile - metals can be drawn into long, thin wires
  • Malleable - metals can be reshaped easily
  • Flexible - metals bend without snapping
  • Sonorous - metals make a ringing sound when hit
  • Magnetic - Cobalt, Nickel, Iron and Steel are magnetic

Uses of Metals

The uses of a material depend on the properties. Metals have a wide variety of useful properties and so are used for a number of different purposes. This does not mean, however, that all metals can do all jobs; some metals are better suited to certain tasks than others. For example:

  • Aluminium is used in high performance cars as it is lightweight and strong;
  • Iron is used for manhole covers as it is strong and cheap;
  • Copper is used for electrical cabling because it is a very good electrical conductor;
  • Gold is used in jewelry because it is very shiny and does not tarnish;
  • Steel is used in bridges because it is very strong and is not as brittle as iron.

Uses and Properties of Non-Metals

At first glance, non-metals seem to be quite useless - non-metals are:

  • Dull;
  • Easily melted and boiled - non-metals have low melting and boiling points
  • Brittle - non-metals snap easily;
  • Insulator of heat and electricity - non-metals do not allow heat or electricity to flow through.

However, non-metals form the backbone of life (carbon), the air we breathe (Nitrogen, Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide), and nutrients in the soil. Non-metals are also used on saucepan handles and around electrical equipment, where their insulating properties are useful. Engineers are also starting to find forms of non-metals that buck the trends of their counterparts: carbon fibre is a non metal that is very strong, ductile and malleable.

Properties of Metals and Non Metals

A table summarising the properties of metals and non metals.

PropertyMetalNon-Metal

Physical State at Room Temperature

Solid (except Mercury)

Solid, Liquid or Gas

Melting Point

High

Low

Boiling Point

High

Low

Electrical Conductor?

Yes

No

Thermal Conductor?

Yes

No

Flexible?

Yes

No

Malleable?

Yes

No

Ductile?

Yes

No

Sonorous?

Yes

No

Magnetic?

Some (Cobalt, Iron, Nickel and Steel)

No

Metals and Non Metals Summary

Comments

Ieuan on October 31, 2016:

This article isn't 100% accurate. Not all metals are malleable, steel is not malleable because it is brittle whilst something like clay is malleable. Steel is also not flexible because of it's brittleness. And most ferrous metals (Metals that contain and/or are magnetic) Are magnetic, although I believe there's one non-ferrous metal that is, or maybe one ferrous metal is not magnetic.

sprickita from Reno on November 17, 2013:

You have neat hubs ty...