Introducing Metals: Studying the Properties of a Typical Metal
Metals are a part of your everyday life—from electric cords to the cars you ride in. In this lesson, you will learn how to describe the properties of a typical metal.
Properties of Metals
The first metal used about 6,000 years ago was gold. The use of copper and silver followed a few thousand years later. Then came tin and iron. Aluminum wasn’t refined until the 1800s because it must go through a much more complicated refining process that earlier civilizations had not yet developed.
In the periodic table, metals are elements found to the left of the stair-step line. In the periodic table above, the metal element blocks are colored blue. Metals usually have common properties—they are good conductors of heat and electricity, and all but one are solid at room temperature. In fact, mercury is the only metal that is not a solid at room temperature.
Metals also reflect light. This is a property called luster. Metals are malleable, which means they can be hammered or rolled into sheets, as shown in the image below. Metals are also ductile, which means they can be drawn into wires like the ones shown in the same image below. These properties make metals suitable for use in objects ranging from eyeglass frames to computers to building structures.
Ionic Bonding in Metals
The atoms of metals generally have one to three electrons in their outer energy levels. In chemical reactions, metals tend to give up electrons easily because of the strength of charge of the protons in the nucleus.
When metals combine with nonmetals, the atoms of the metals tend to lose electrons to the atoms of nonmetals, forming ionic bonds, as shown in the image below. Both metals and nonmetals become more chemically stable when they form ions. They take on the electron structure of the nearest noble gas.
Another type of bonding, neither ionic nor covalent, occurs among the atoms in a metal. In metallic bonding, positively charged metallic ions are surrounded by a cloud of electrons. Outer-level electrons are not held tightly to the nucleus of an atom. Rather, the electrons move freely among many positively charged ions. As shown in the image below, the electrons form a cloud around the ions of the metal.
The idea of metallic bonding explains many of the properties of metals. For example, when a metal is hammered into a sheet or drawn into a wire, it does not break because the ions are in layers that slide past one another without losing their attraction to the electron cloud. Metals are also good conductors of electricity because the outer-level electrons are weakly held.
Look at the periodic table at the beginning of the lesson again. How many of the elements in the table are classified as metals? All of the blue-shaded boxes represent metals. Except for hydrogen, all the elements in Groups 1 through 12 are metals, as well as the elements under the stair-step line in Groups 13 through 15. You will learn more about metals in some of these groups in the following lessons.
Confused about anything that was mentioned in the lesson? Ask a question!