Copper: the metal of an entire era
The brightest experiments with copper
Copper is a soft, malleable metal, one of the few metals that does not have a silvery or grey color – it is golden-pink. It has high electricity and heat conductivity and is only surpassed by silver in these parameters.
In nature, copper is encountered in its pure form, and also in the composition of various metals, such as bornite Cu₅FeS₄, chalcosine Cu₂S, chalcopyrite CuFeS₂, covelline CuS, azurite Cu₃(СО₃)₂(ОН)₂, malachite Cu₂CO₃(OH)₂, cuprite Cu₂O, and tenorite CuO. The most important for obtaining copper are chalcopyrite and chalcosine
The history of copper
When the Stone Age was drawing to a close, and humanity had not yet entered the Bronze Age, between 5,000 and 3,000 BCE people used copper quite widely. This period has even been called the Copper Age.
However, the oldest copper objects found in northern Iran are dated to 8,700 BCE. Initially, people employed a coldworking process, but over time, in different regions technologies for smelting copper items were developed independently. In Ancient Egypt, there was a copper water pipe in the Great Pyramid in Giza! Additionally, in later times, around 2,400 BCE, Ancient Egyptians used copper to sterilize wounds.
Gradually, people began to use alloys of copper with other metals, particular with tin, to make bronze. The Bronze Age began. Various household items and weapons were made from copper and its alloys.
In antiquity, copper got its name from the Latin “cyprium” in honor of the island of Cyprus. At that time, Cyprus was the largest supplier of copper. In Ancient Greece, and later during the time of alchemy, copper was linked with the plane Venus and indicated by the symbol of this planet. Copper played a major role in the development of money – in Ancient Rome copper was used for making coins from the 6th to the 3rd century BCE.
Later, alloys of copper with tin and lead began to be used for manufacturing coins. In the modern age, copper continued to serve humanity. It was used to make sculptures in the Renaissance, and covered roofs of European buildings. Copper acetate was used as the green pigment verdigris. Copper oxides, carbonates, sulfate and sulfides form a green film – patina – on the surface of copper and bronze items. It is patina that gives a green color to copper roofs of European buildings and the Statue of Liberty in the USA.
Copper was also used to line wooden boats, to protect them from mollusks, sponges etc. from attaching themselves to the hull, and in the 18th century a protective layer of copper was used to cover the underwater sections of metal ships.
Where copper is used
In many ways, the use of copper was determined by its high electricity and heat conductivity. Most copper is used in electronics in wires and cables. Microchips, electricity generators, electrical communication devices and many others types of equipment are made with copper. Motors of electrical engines also contain copper. 300 hp motors of these kinds can be found in Tesla cars, for example.
The high heat conductivity of copper allows it to be used for good heat exchange devices and radiators. If you look inside your computer or laptop, you will certainly find copper radiators, which cool down parts that heat up during the work process. Although in ordinary computers cheaper but less efficient radiators are often used made of aluminum alloys.
The softness of copper means it can easily be used to make pipes and bend them into different shapes. Copper parts of various forms are used in stills for making whiskey, for example.
Copper has another remarkable property – this metal and its alloys, for example bronze and brass, are natural anti-bacterial substances! In these properties, copper is similar to silver, but lags behind it in this property. Scientists have found, for example, that in hospitals disease-carrying bacteria can live for up to 30 days on surfaces which people touch – door handles, railings etc. But if these surfaces are made from copper alloys, bacteria cannot survive for even a few hours.
Using this knowledge, in 2010 the management of a hospital in Ireland completely replaced all the ordinary door handles and other objects which patients touched with alloys containing copper. Even ballpoint pens are made from copper, in which bacteria cannot survive, according to the manufacturers. It is interesting that the anti-bacterial effect spreads to close surfaces in a radius of up to half a meter! Copper compounds, for example copper sulfate CuSO₄, are used to protect plants from germs that cause various diseases.
Copper is a very musical element! Copper wind instruments are made from copper alloys. The strings on guitars, pianos, harpsichords and harps, and also bowed instruments, are made with copper or its alloys. Additionally, copper is used in the manufacture of various percussion instruments – gongs, bells and cymbals.
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