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Science Innovation Centre · 029 · Copper

This element is no longer available.

Copper is a reddish metal with a face-centred cubic crystalline structure. It reflects red and orange light and absorbs other frequencies in the visible spectrum, due to its band structure, so it as a nice reddish colour. It is malleable, ductile, and an extremely good conductor of both heat and electricity. It is softer than zinc and can be polished to a bright finish. It is found in group I of the periodic table, together with silver and gold. Copper has low chemical reactivity. In moist air it slowly forms a greenish surface film called patina; this coating protects the metal from further attack.

Most copper is used for electrical equipment (60%); construction, such as roofing and plumbing (20%); industrial machinery, such as heat exchangers (15%) and alloys (5%). The main long established copper alloys are bronze, brass (a copper-zinc alloy), copper-tin-zinc, which was strong enough to make guns and cannons, and was known as gun metal, copper and nickel, known as cupronickel, which was the preferred metal for low-denomination coins.

Copper is ideal for electrical wiring because it is easily worked, can be drawn into fine wire and has a high electrical conductivity.