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What is Copper? – Definition, Occurrence, Properties, Uses

  • Last Updated : 11 Nov, 2021

Copper(II) salts are commonly encountered compounds that often impart blue or green colours to minerals such as azurite, malachite, and turquoise and have been widely and historically used as pigments. Copper used in construction, typically for roofing, oxidises to form green verdigris. Copper compounds are used to make bacteriostatic agents, fungicides, and wood preservatives.

It’s a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with high thermal and electrical conductivity. The colour of a freshly exposed pure copper surface is pinkish-orange. Copper is employed as a heat and electricity conductor, a building material, and a constituent of several metal alloys, including sterling silver in jewellery, cupronickel in nautical hardware and coins, and constantan in temperature measuring strain gauges and thermocouples. 

Copper has the chemical symbol Cu and the atomic number 29. Copper is required as a trace dietary mineral by all living organisms because it is a component of the respiratory enzyme complex cytochrome c oxidase. Copper is primarily found in the liver, muscle, and bone in humans.

Occurrence of Copper

  • Copper is produced in massive stars and is found in the Earth’s crust is about 50 ppm concentrations. 
  • Copper can be found in a variety of minerals, including native copper, copper sulphides like chalcopyrite, bornite, digenite, covellite, and chalcocite, copper sulfosalts, copper carbonates like azurite and malachite, and copper(I) or copper(II) oxides like cuprite. 
  • Copper is the 25th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, accounting for 50 parts per million (ppm), compared to 75 parts per million for zinc and 14 parts per million for lead.

Properties of Copper

  1. Copper is a reddish metal with a face-centred cubic crystalline structure.
  2. Because of its band structure, it reflects red and orange light and absorbs other frequencies in the visible spectrum, giving it a nice reddish colour.
  3. It is malleable, ductile, and an excellent heat and electricity conductor.
  4. It’s softer than zinc and can be polished to a gleaming sheen.
  5. Copper is a metal with low chemical reactivity.
  6. In wet air, it creates a greenish surface film called patina, which protects the metal from further oxidation.

Uses Of Copper

Copper sulphate is widely used as a poison in agriculture and as an algicide in water purification. While many people do not think of copper as being used for anything other than coins, it is an important component in the production of bronze.

Copper was the first metal that people worked on within history. The Bronze Age was named after the discovery that it could be hardened with a little tin to form the alloy bronze. It is used in a wide range of products, including cans, cooking foil, and saucepans, as well as electricity cables, planes, and space vehicles.

Electrical conductivity is particularly important because wire accounts for more than half of global copper consumption. Chemical vapour deposition, which is used in semiconductor manufacturing, is the process of depositing thin copper films from a gas-phase precursor. Copper is primarily used as a gold and silver alloy, and it is frequently plated with one or the other.

Copper is mostly utilised in electrical equipment (60%) and construction (20%), as well as industrial gear such as heat exchangers (15%) and alloys (5 %). Bronze, brass (a copper-zinc alloy), copper-tin-zinc, which was strong enough to make guns and cannons and was known as gunmetal, and copper and nickel, known as cupronickel, which was the preferred metal for low-denomination coins, are the main long-established copper alloys. Copper is an excellent choice for electrical wiring because it is easy to work, can be drawn into fine wire, and has a high electrical conductivity.

Copper in the environment

Copper is a very common substance that occurs naturally in the environment and spreads through natural processes. Copper is widely used by humans. Copper production in the world is still increasing. This essentially means that an increasing amount of copper ends up in the environment. Rivers are depositing copper-contaminated sludge on their banks as a result of the disposal of copper-containing wastewater. Copper enters the atmosphere primarily through the combustion of fossil fuels. Copper in the air will remain there for an extended period of time before settling when it begins to rain. It will then primarily end up in soils. As a result, soils may contain significant amounts of copper after copper from the air has settled.

Copper can be released into the environment through both natural and human sources. Wind-blown dust, decaying vegetation, forest fires, and sea spray are examples of natural sources. Several human activities that contribute to copper release have already been identified. Mining, metal production, wood production, and phosphate fertiliser production are some other examples. Copper is very common in the environment because it is released both naturally and through human activity. Copper is frequently discovered near mines, industrial settings, landfills, and waste disposal sites.

Sample Questions

Question 1: What are some uses of copper?


Copper is used primarily in electrical wiring, roofing, plumbing, and industrial machinery. Copper in its pure form is used in the majority of these applications. It can, however, be alloyed with other metals to achieve higher levels of hardness. Copper wires have been used in power generation, distribution, transmission, and electronic circuits. In fact, electrical wiring consumes more than half of all mined copper.

Question 2: Why does Copper not follow Aufbau’s principle?


Because of the relatively low energy gap between the 3d and 4s orbitals, as well as the added stability provided by a completely filled d-orbital, the electronic configuration of copper does not obey the Aufbau principle.

Question 3: What is Aufbau’s principle?


The Aufbau principle governs how electrons are filled in an atom’s atomic orbitals in its ground state. According to this theory, electrons are filled into atomic orbitals in ascending sequence of orbital energy level. According to the Aufbau principle, the lowest energy levels of accessible atomic orbitals are occupied first, followed by higher energy levels.

Question 4: What are the effects of copper on humans?


Long-term copper exposure can cause nose, throat, and eye inflammation, as well as headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Copper absorption that is excessively high can cause liver and kidney damage, as well as death. It has not yet been determined whether copper is carcinogenic.

Question 5: Is Copper toxic to humans?


Copper is essential for good health. Higher doses, on the other hand, may be harmful. Copper dust can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and diarrhoea by irritating your nose, mouth, and eyes.

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