What is Cu (Copper)?

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The History of Copper

Early Use of Copper

Copper has been used by humans for at least 10,000 years, with evidence of copper smelting dating back to 5000 BCE in Serbia and 6000 BCE in Iraq. The earliest known copper artifact is a pendant found in northern Iraq, which dates back to approximately 8700 BCE. Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, used copper for various purposes, including the production of tools, weapons, and jewelry.

The Bronze Age

The discovery of copper’s ability to form alloys with other metals, particularly tin, led to the Bronze Age, a period that lasted from around 3300 BCE to 1200 BCE. During this time, bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was used to create stronger and more durable tools, weapons, and decorative objects. The widespread use of bronze revolutionized agriculture, warfare, and art in ancient civilizations.

The Copper Age

The Copper Age, also known as the Chalcolithic period, is a transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. During this time, which lasted from around 5000 BCE to 3000 BCE, copper was the primary metal used for the production of tools and weapons. The Copper Age saw the development of more advanced metallurgical techniques, such as smelting and casting.

Physical Properties of Copper

Appearance and Color

Copper has a distinctive reddish-orange color when freshly exposed, but it can develop a green or blue patina over time due to oxidation. The metal has a bright, metallic luster and can be polished to a high shine. Copper is often used in decorative applications because of its attractive appearance.

Malleability and Ductility

Copper is both malleable and ductile, meaning it can be easily shaped without breaking. It can be hammered into thin sheets (malleability) or drawn into thin wires (ductility) without losing its strength or integrity. These properties make copper an ideal material for use in electrical wiring, plumbing, and other applications where flexibility is important.

Electrical and Thermal Conductivity

One of copper’s most notable properties is its excellent electrical conductivity. Among pure metals, only silver has a higher electrical conductivity than copper. This property makes copper the preferred choice for electrical wiring and other electrical applications. Copper is also an excellent conductor of heat, making it useful in applications such as heat exchangers and cooking utensils.

Property Value
Atomic Number 29
Atomic Mass 63.546 u
Density 8.96 g/cm³
Melting Point 1084.62°C (1984.32°F)
Boiling Point 2562°C (4643°F)
Electrical Conductivity 5.96 × 10⁷ S/m
Thermal Conductivity 401 W/(m·K)

Chemical Properties of Copper


Copper is a relatively unreactive metal, which contributes to its durability and longevity in various applications. However, it can react with certain substances under specific conditions:

  1. Oxidation: Copper can react with oxygen in the air to form copper oxide, which appears as a green or blue patina on the surface of the metal. This patina can actually protect the underlying metal from further corrosion.

  2. Acids: Copper can react with strong acids, such as nitric acid or concentrated sulfuric acid, to form copper salts and hydrogen gas.

  3. Halogens: Copper can react with halogens, such as chlorine and fluorine, to form copper halides.

Compounds and Alloys

Copper forms numerous compounds and alloys, each with unique properties and applications:

  1. Copper Sulfate (CuSO₄): This blue crystalline compound is used in agriculture as a fungicide and in the production of other copper compounds.

  2. Copper Chloride (CuCl₂): This yellowish-brown compound is used in the production of other copper compounds and as a catalyst in organic synthesis.

  3. Brass: An alloy of copper and zinc, brass is used in musical instruments, decorative objects, and plumbing fixtures due to its durability and attractive appearance.

  4. Bronze: An alloy of copper and tin, bronze is used in sculptures, medals, and bearings due to its strength and resistance to corrosion.

Occurrence and Extraction of Copper

Copper Ores

Copper is found in the Earth’s crust in various forms, including native copper, copper sulfides, and copper oxides. The most common copper ores are:

  1. Chalcopyrite (CuFeS₂): This copper-iron sulfide is the most abundant copper ore, accounting for about 50% of global copper production.

  2. Bornite (Cu₅FeS₄): Also known as peacock ore due to its iridescent colors, bornite is a copper-iron sulfide that contains about 63% copper.

  3. Malachite (Cu₂CO₃(OH)₂): This green copper carbonate hydroxide is often used as a decorative stone in addition to being a minor ore of copper.

Extraction Methods

Copper is extracted from its ores through a series of processes:

  1. Mining: Copper ores are mined from open pits or underground mines, depending on the depth and grade of the ore body.

  2. Concentration: The mined ore is crushed and ground, then separated into copper-bearing and waste materials using froth flotation.

  3. Smelting: The concentrated copper ore is heated in a furnace to produce copper matte, which contains about 50-70% copper.

  4. Converting: The copper matte is oxidized in a converter furnace to remove the remaining sulfur and iron, producing blister copper (98-99% pure).

  5. Refining: Blister copper is refined through electrolysis to produce high-purity copper cathodes (99.99% pure).

Ore Formula Copper Content
Chalcopyrite CuFeS₂ 34.5%
Bornite Cu₅FeS₄ 63.3%
Chalcocite Cu₂S 79.8%
Covellite CuS 66.5%
Malachite Cu₂CO₃(OH)₂ 57.5%

Applications of Copper

Copper’s unique properties make it useful in a wide range of applications:

Electrical and Electronic Applications

Copper’s excellent electrical conductivity makes it the primary choice for electrical wiring, transformers, and motors. It is also used in the production of printed circuit boards and integrated circuits for electronic devices.

Plumbing and Heating

Copper’s resistance to corrosion and its ability to withstand high temperatures make it an ideal material for plumbing and heating systems. Copper pipes are commonly used in residential and commercial buildings for water supply and heating.

Construction and Architecture

Copper’s durability and attractive appearance make it a popular choice for roofing, gutters, and decorative elements in construction and architecture. Copper roofs can last for centuries, developing a distinctive green patina over time.


Copper is used in the production of various components for automobiles, trains, and ships, including electrical systems, brakes, and radiators. Its strength and durability make it well-suited for these applications.

Art and Coinage

Copper and its alloys have been used for centuries in the creation of sculptures, decorative objects, and coins. The U.S. penny, for example, was made from pure copper until 1982, when it was changed to a copper-plated zinc coin.

Environmental and Health Considerations

Copper in the Environment

Copper is a naturally occurring element that is essential for plant and animal life in small amounts. However, excessive levels of copper in the environment can be harmful to aquatic organisms and soil health. Copper mining and processing can contribute to environmental pollution if not properly managed.

Copper and Human Health

Copper is an essential trace element for human health, playing a role in the formation of red blood cells, the maintenance of nerve cells, and the absorption of iron. However, excessive copper intake can lead to health problems such as liver damage and gastrointestinal distress. Wilson’s disease is a rare genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the body, leading to serious health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. Q: Is copper magnetic?
    A: No, copper is not magnetic. It is a diamagnetic material, meaning it is slightly repelled by magnetic fields.

  2. Q: Why do copper pipes turn green?
    A: Copper pipes can develop a green patina over time due to a process called oxidation. When copper is exposed to air and moisture, it reacts to form copper carbonate, which appears as a green layer on the surface of the metal.

  3. Q: Can copper be recycled?
    A: Yes, copper is one of the most recycled metals in the world. Recycling copper requires much less energy than extracting it from ores, making it an environmentally friendly practice.

  4. Q: Is copper cookware safe to use?
    A: Yes, copper cookware is generally safe to use as long as it is lined with another metal, such as stainless steel or tin. Unlined copper cookware can react with acidic foods, leading to copper leaching into the food.

  5. Q: How can I tell if an object is made of copper?
    A: Copper has a distinctive reddish-orange color and is non-magnetic. You can also test an object’s conductivity using a multimeter, as copper is an excellent conductor of electricity.


Copper is a versatile and essential metal that has played a crucial role in human civilization for thousands of years. Its unique physical and chemical properties make it indispensable in a wide range of applications, from electrical wiring and plumbing to art and coinage. As we continue to develop new technologies and face environmental challenges, copper will undoubtedly remain an important material in shaping our world.