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WEIRD AND WONDERFUL USES FOR METALS

Posted March 21st 2016

Gold

A highly valuable precious metal, gold is often used to make jewellery and its value is carefully monitored worldwide, even though it is no longer used to make any form of currency. One of its lesser known uses, however, is as a health supplement. It is thought that the Japanese originated the custom of ingesting gold in food and beverages to improve health and wellbeing, but this practice can also be identified in many European countries. Another lesser known use of gold is as protection from the sun. Astronauts in space wear gold coated visors to protect their eyes from dangerous rays and many parts of space crafts have a gold covering to deflect radiation. Some buildings, such as the RoyalBankPlaza building in Toronto even have gold coating on their windows to reflect light.

Iridium

A rare and expensive metal, only 3 tonnes of iridium are produced per year. Iridium jewellery can be eye wateringly expensive, however, when it isn’t being used to make jewellery the uses of iridium are surprisingly mundane. Due to the fact it is very sturdy, almost immune to corrosion and has an extremely high melting point, iridium is favoured for use in objects that need to handle a lot of pressure. This includes spark plugs, compass bearings and even the tip of fountain pens.

Silver

Another precious metal, we are used to seeing silver in various decorative forms, whether that be jewellery or household objects. But have you ever heard of silver being used in clothing? If you buy antimicrobial socks, the kind that swear to eliminate any nasty foot odours, then are actually buying socks with tiny, tiny bits of silver included in the blend of fiber. It has also traditionally been used in photography. In the form of silver halide crystals, silver is light sensitive and is known for producing high quality, beautiful prints.

Aluminium

A highly useful metal, we are used to seeing aluminium in the form of cans or foil. However, aluminium is incredibly light and is also used to make jewellery as an alternative to precious metals. When aluminium was first discovered, it was very difficult to produce and as it could only be manufactured in small quantities any jewellery produced using aluminium was priced as high as jewellery made from platinum. Vintage aluminium jewellery is still very collectible and lots of modern costume jewellery can be found made from aluminium.

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COPPER

Posted March 12th 2016

Coming from the Latin word cuprum, meaning ‘island of Cyprus’, Copper is a chemical element with symbol Cu and atomic number 29. With a red-orange colour, it is a highly recognisable metal and is soft, malleable and ductile with extremely high thermal and electrical conductivity. It is often used as a conductor of heat and electricity because of these properties, as well as a building material and a constituent of various metal alloys.

Copper is placed in group 11 of the periodic table, along with silver and gold. All 3 metals share certain attributes, such as being characterised by high ductility and electrical conductivity. Copper is also one of only 4 elemental metals to have a natural colour that is not grey or silver, the others being caesium, gold and osmium.

Copper has a long history – it can be found as a pure metal occurring naturally and it is believed to be the first source of metal used by humans. It was also the first metal to be smelted from its ore, cast into shapes and alloyed with another metal. It was prevalent in the Roman Empire, who obtained most of their copper from Cyprus. Today, we obtain copper mainly from ores such as cuprite, tenorite, malachite, chalcocite, covellite and bornite. Although copper has been used for a long time, more than 95% of all copper ever mined and smelted has been extracted since 1900.

The main use of copper is in the electrical industry with 60% of all copper being used in electrical wires – it is second only to silver in electrical conductance and far more cost effective. It is also widely used to make coins due to the fact it resists corrosion from the air, moisture and seawater. American pennies, for example, are made from zinc coated with copper. The use of copper is also common in building and plumbing. It has been used in rooves, flashings, rain gutters and doors for thousands of years, its distinctive green patina making it highly coveted by architects and designers. In more recent times copper has also been used in interior/exterior wall cladding, building expansion joints and antimicrobial indoor products such as bathroom fixtures.

Pure copper is often too soft for many uses which is why alloying it with other metals is so common. The most common copper alloys are bronze and brass – bronze is a mix of copper containing as much as 25% tin, whilst brass uses between 5-45% zinc.

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MYTHICAL METALS

Posted March 4th 2016

We talk a lot here about metals that will be familiar to most people, with the odd reference to rarer metals. What about metals that are completely fictional though, with no basis in the real world? There are many completely fictional metals that have sprung from myths or popular fiction and you might be more familiar with them than you think – take a look at the list below to see some of our top examples.

Mithril

Although it is now found in many fictional fantasy worlds, Mithril was introduced to us first by J. R. R. Tolkein. A legendary metal in Middle-earth, the setting of Tolkein’s fantasy novels, Mithril resembles silver but is stronger than steel and far lighter than both. Coveted by the race of Dwarves, it is found only in the mines of Moria and was mined by them until their source was cut off by the Balrog known as Durin’s Bane. This made it extremely rare and almost priceless.

Adamantium

Adamantium appears in the American comic books by Marvel Comics and is best known as the metal that covers Wolverine’s entire skeleton. It is a group of man-made metal alloys that make Adamantium virtually indestructible. In its solid form it is a dark metallic grey and almost impossible to destroy or mark, although it can pierce lesser metals easily.

Octiron

Created by Terry Pratchett, Octiron appears in the Discworld series and is a very rare metal that is naturally imbued with magic, making it extremely unstable. Octiron is believed to be at the hub of the Discworld and is what gives it its strong magical field.

Unobtainium

Unobtainium can mean any fictional, extremely rare or costly material in engineering and thought experiments. In the world of James Cameron’s Avatar, it is the substance that appears on the fictional moon Pandora in abundance and is highly coveted by the RDA – Resources Development Administration. It is a room-temperature superconductor, which means it is capable of superconductivity at operating temperatures above 0° C, and the reason it is so valued by the RDA.

Uru

Uru is the Asgardian metal that Thor’s hammer is made from. Forged by Dwarven blacksmiths, in the heart of a dying star, the hammer can only be lifted by someone worthy. Uru itself is a highly malleable metal that resembles stone and is highly durable. It absorbs magic like a sponge, enhancing the natural abilities of whoever wields it.

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