Copper: Chemical Element Properties

  • Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed surface of pure copper has a pinkish-orange color. It is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, as a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys, such as sterling silver used in jewelry, cupronickel used to make marine hardware and coins, and constantan used in strain gauges and thermocouples for temperature measurement.

It is one of the few metals that can occur in nature in a directly usable metallic form native metals. This led to very early human use in several regions, from c. 8000 BC. Thousands of years later, it was the first metal to be smelted from sulfide ores, c. 5000 BC, the first metal to be cast into a shape in a mold, c. 4000 BC and the first metal to be purposefully alloyed with another metal, tin, to create bronze, c. 3500 BC.

Copper Element Properties

Physical and Chemical Characteristics of Copper

  • It is a silver, and gold are in group 11 of the periodic table; these three metals have one s-orbital electron on top of a filled d-electron shell and are characterized by high ductility, and electrical and thermal conductivity.
  • The softness of Cu partly explains its high electrical conductivity (59.6×106 S/m) and high thermal conductivity, second highest (second only to silver) among pure metals at room temperature.
  • The maximum permissible current density of copper in open air is approximately 3.1×106 A/m2 of cross-sectional area, above which it begins to heat excessively.
  • It is one of a few metallic elements with a natural color other than gray or silver. Pure copper is orange-red and acquires a reddish tarnish when exposed to air. The characteristic color of copper results from the electronic transitions between the filled 3d and half-empty 4s atomic shells the energy difference between these shells corresponds to orange light.
  • It does not react with water, but it does slowly react with atmospheric oxygen to form a layer of brown-black copper oxide which, unlike the rust that forms on iron in moist air, protects the underlying metal from further corrosion.
  • A green layer copper carbonate can often be seen on old copper structures, such as the roofing of many older buildings. And the Statue of Liberty Copper tarnishes when exposed to some sulfur compounds, with which it reacts to form various copper sulfides.
  • It occurs combined in many minerals, such as chalcocite, chalcopyrite, bornite, cuprite, malachite, and azurite. It is present in the ashes of seaweeds, in many sea corals, in the human liver, and in many mollusks and arthropods.