What is Copper? Properties, History and Uses

What is Copper? History, Properties and Applications

Are you curious about the properties, history and uses of copper? This versatile metal has been used for centuries for a variety of purposes, from tools to aesthetic additions to buildings. From ancient civilizations that drew strength from copper coins and jewelry to our modern world where it’s in everything from wiring to electronics, copper is one of the most important elements in our lives today. In this article, we’ll explore what makes up this malleable yet strong material, its fascinating origin story and some amazing uses throughout time. Read on to learn more about the “metal of kings”!

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What is Copper?

Copper is a chemical element with the atomic number 29 and is represented in the periodic table by the symbol Cu. Copper is a malleable and ductile metal with high thermal and electrical conductivity. Copper occurs naturally, but it is most abundant in minerals such as chalcopyrite and bornite, which are distinguished by their reddish-gold color.

Massive stars produce copper, which is also found in our planet’s crust. The heaviest copper lump found weighed 420 tonnes. This substance can be found in both human and animal anatomy. Copper is found in the liver, muscles, and bones, with normal levels ranging from 1.4 to 2.1 mg/kg.

Copper is widely used, particularly in electrical wire. Even though only a small amount of copper is used in coinage, we come into contact with it every time we handle a coin. Copper can form alloys with more alloying elements than most other metals, including zinc, tin, nickel, and aluminum. These metals are added to increase the strength and resistance to wear and corrosion of the alloy, but they also change the color.

History Of Copper:

Copper’s name derives from the Old English word ‘coper,’ which derives from the Latin word ‘Cyprium as,’ which means “metal from Cyprus.” Copper was known to some of the world’s earliest civilizations and may have been used as far back as prehistoric times. It is thought to have been the first metal worked by humans because it can be found in relatively pure forms, which means it does not need to be mined from an ore.

Copper was discovered and used for the first time during the Neolithic Period, also known as the New Stone Age. Though the exact date of discovery is unknown, it is thought to have occurred around 8000 BCE. Copper occurs naturally in its free metallic state; it is this natural copper that humans use as a stone substitute.

Egypt was one of the most advanced countries in the early development of copper. As early as 5000 BCE, copper weapons and implements were discovered in graves for the dead. Copper mining in the Sinai Peninsula has been documented around 3800 BCE. The presence of crucibles at these mines indicates that the process of obtaining the metal required some refinement.

Copper was hammered into thin sheets before being formed into pipes and other objects. During this time, bronze first appeared. A metal rod discovered in the Maydm pyramid near Memphis, Egypt, with an estimated date of origin of around 3700 BCE is the oldest known piece of this material.

Copper Compounds:

Oxides: Because copper has two valences, it produces two oxides. These chemicals are cuprous oxide (Cu2O) and cupric oxide (CuO). Cuprous oxide is produced using a furnace or electrolytes. It’s a crystalline red substance. Cupric oxide is produced by igniting appropriate salts such as copper hydroxide, copper nitrate, and copper carbonate, or by heating cuprous oxide. CuO appears as a dark grey powder.

Halides: Copper-chlorine compounds include cupric chloride (CuCl2) and cuprous chloride (CuCl). Cuprous iodide (Cul) is formed through the direct reaction of copper and iodine. Cupric iodide (Cul2) is only found in complex chemical compounds or when ammonium salts are present.

Sulfates: Cupric sulfate (CuSO4) is the most important copper salt, also known as blue vitriol due to its brilliant blue color. Most cupric sulfate crystallizes as CuSO4.5H2O.

Alloys of Copper

One of the remarkable properties of copper is its ability to alloy with various metals. The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but it does focus on some of the most commonly used alloys:

  • Bronze: The Bronze Age began when copper was alloyed with a small amount of tin.
  • Brass: When copper and zinc are combined, a golden metal known as brass is created that is used in a variety of products, including musical instruments.
  • Sterling silver: Is created by combining silver with other metals such as copper. It is frequently used in jewelry. Copper alloys have numerous applications, ranging from everyday items to industrial applications such as weaponry.
  • Cupronickel: When copper and nickel combine, a stronger metal is formed, which is used to make coins, hardware, naval engineering, and armaments, among other things.

Applications of Copper

  • Copper was the first metal that humans worked with throughout history. The Bronze Age was named after it was discovered that the alloy bronze could be hardened with a little tin.
  • Copper sulfate is commonly used as an agricultural toxin and as an algicide in water treatment.
  • While copper is most commonly associated with coins, it also plays an important role in the manufacture of bronze.
  • It’s used in a variety of products, including cans, cooking foil, saucepans, power cables, planes, and spacecraft.
  • The process of depositing thin copper films from a gas-phase precursor is known as chemical vapor deposition.

Properties of Copper

Copper has a variety of properties that make it valuable in modern metallurgy and useful in a variety of businesses and industries. Copper and its alloys have several advantageous properties, including the following:

Corrosion Resistance

Because of its natural corrosion resistance, copper has proven to be a valuable metal for outdoor and marine construction. Because 90/10 and 70/30 copper-nickel alloys can withstand the corrosive effects of seawater, it is frequently used as an alloy.

The extremely high corrosion resistance properties of copper-nickel alloys are created by a chemical reaction between the metal’s filmy surface and salt water, which protects the core metal beneath it.

Malleability and Ductility:

Copper is malleable and ductile, which means that it can be easily shaped into a wire-like shape. Copper is commonly used in architectural elements, particularly steeples and spires on historic church buildings. Copper was commonly used on old buildings’ roofs and flashing. The green patina caused by oxidation gives the structures a distinct appearance while increasing the metal’s durability.

Without copper’s great flexibility, it would be difficult to create the small diameter wires that transport electricity in computers, television sets, mobile phones, and automobiles. Copper wiring can be found in the majority of small electrical devices, particularly on printed circuit boards, where it has supplanted aluminum as the preferred wiring material.

Antimicrobial/Biofouling Resistance: 

Copper’s antibacterial properties were widely recognized centuries ago, long before the science of bacteria was understood. Water-carrying vessels made of copper were less prone to algae growth and slime formation than other metals.

Because of their self-sanitizing surface structure, copper alloys are of particular interest in this field of research because they kill a wide range of bacteria, including E coil, legionella, and MRSA. Copper touch surfaces are replacing stainless steel and silver surfaces that are less effective at eradicating bacteria in hospital wards and operating rooms.


Copper is a good electrical and thermal conductor that is commonly used in electrical wiring. Pure copper has an electrical conductivity of 5.9107 Siemens/m, making it the second most electrically conductive metal after silver (6.2107 Siemens/m).

Because copper is far more abundant and thus less expensive than silver, it has become a popular method of transmitting electricity quickly. Copper’s flexibility makes it ideal for wire and cable production. The weight of copper, on the other hand, made it unsuitable for overhead power lines, which typically use aluminum or aluminum-coated high-tensile steel strands.

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