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Pure metals are the essential elements of matter. There are 118 known elements either found in nature or created in the lab. Most of these elements are metals, but there are a small number of non-metal elements, such as carbon, and a few “in-between” elements, called metalloids. All metal elements found on Earth were either created within a star at the beginning phases of the universe or by humans in labs.
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What Are Metals?Metals maintain specific physical properties that distinguish them from non-metals and metalloids. The most obvious difference is that metals conduct heat and electricity very well. They are typically hard when solid and have a glossy shine. Another essential quality of metals is that they are ductile, which means they can be hammered or worked into different shapes. They also can be melted and cast into molds or cut with machine tools to create valuable objects.
The Origins of MetalAll of Earth’s metals originated billions of years ago when the universe first appeared. Inside the ultra-hot environment of the stars, simple hydrogen and helium atoms fused to create heavier elements. After the original stars exploded, dust and gas from the explosion found their way to our local galaxy and were caught up in making our solar system. Particles swirling around the new sun clumped together into planets, including Earth.
How is Metal Made?Most of the metal on Earth, especially iron, is found within the Earth’s core. Metal is scattered unevenly throughout the Earth’s crust, mixed with rock, and combined with oxygen and other elements. Some rock types, such as granite, only hold trace amounts of metal. The metal we use to make buildings, computers, cars and trucks, and many other products come from underground deposits of mineral ores containing high metal concentrations.
Metal Alloy ManufacturingThe first step in metal alloy manufacturing is extracting the raw ore from the ground. The ore is then processed to remove non-metal material, such as rock and debris. Metal alloys are then created by melting different metal substances and mixing them. Once the newly incorporated metal compound cools, it results in a solid metal alloy material. The extraction process may include:
- crushing the ore into powder
- heating it to high temperatures
- rinsing it with water or a chemical bath
- filtering the sludge
- precipitating out the liquid
- applying an electric current to break strong chemical bonds
Early Human Metal ProductionThe earliest humans discovered small bits of naturally abundant metals, such as copper, tin, and gold, which they hammered into ornaments and other objects. They learned to mix metals to create new metals, called alloys, improving their characteristics.
For example, by mixing copper with tin, they created bronze, which is much more complex and better for weapons than pure copper. Essential metal alloys such as steel, which is iron mixed with small amounts of carbon, produce some of the most used metal objects humans use today, such as automobiles, building structures, appliances, and much more.
Metal Alloy OptionsAlmost all metal elements can be alloyed into different types, with each metal alloy displaying its unique physical characteristics and beneficial features. Some of the metals that produce the most helpful metal alloys include:
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