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What are the Properties of Copper?

Jason C. Chavis
Jason C. Chavis

Copper is a metallic element with the atomic number 29 and the scientific designation of Cu. The properties of copper make it highly ductile and conductive to both thermal and electrical attributes. It is also malleable and soft, while maintaining an orange-like coloring. Uses for copper primarily include its addition in alloys for building materials and electrical wiring.

The physical properties of copper make it react very profoundly with the air, most notably oxygen. This creates a thin layer of tarnish over the visible portion, giving copper its unique coloring. Pure copper with no exposure to the air maintains a pinkish color. This makes copper part of a small metallic family, with caesium and gold, which are not colored either silver or gray. Copper has the tendency to reflect light without the blue/violet spectrum, causing it to fall into the red scope of colors.

Copper wire.
Copper wire.

Besides its solid state, copper can also exist in either a liquid or gaseous state. The properties of liquified copper make it appear green with no ambient light, while bright light makes it pink. When burnt into a gaseous state, copper gives off a black smoke, caused by its interaction with oxygen.

One of the prevalent physical properties of copper is the fact that it fits in with silver and gold to compose Group 11 on the periodic table of the elements. Each of these elements forms metallic bonds that feature a single electron orbiting an electron shell on top of the nucleus. This causes Group 11 metals to all be malleable and conductive.

Small nuggets of pure copper.
Small nuggets of pure copper.

The chemical properties of copper include the tendency to cause galvanic corrosion. When copper is put in direct contact with certain metals such as iron, corrosion from water can occur to the other metal. The juncture between the metals acts as a battery and produces electrical currents. This is extremely important in the plumbing industry, where both copper and iron pipes are used to transfer water. To avoid this problem, the pipes are generally separated with a plastic or rubber fitting.

A pot made out of copper.
A pot made out of copper.

One interesting property of copper is its naturally-occurring germicidal effect. Many pathogens are killed by any alloy containing more than 65 percent copper within a period of eight hours. Colder temperatures cause this time frame to be extended. This fact is highly useful in settings such as hospitals, which are responsible for many cases of acquired infections each year. By simply covering surfaces with copper alloys, the rate of infection can be decreased.

Discussion Comments


What is one property of iron that copper does not have?


I think copper is pretty awesome! I love the way they make bracelets and things out of it, but it is still used for other things like pipes and wires!


I absolutely love the look of copper in any kind of architectural or decorative sense. Whether it has its original, red tone or it’s tarnished with age, I still find it just beautiful. And there are so many copper uses!

For instance, I’ve been looking into getting these new copper tiles that I’ve seen in lots of decorating magazines to go in my kitchen. It looks like they can be used for either a backsplash sort of thing or even on the ceiling.

I’m just not sure I’m brave enough to put something that powerful up in there! I’m afraid it might be a bit overbearing - but it sure would be snazzy, too!

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    • Copper wire.
      By: Dmitry DG
      Copper wire.
    • Small nuggets of pure copper.
      By: Ekaterina Fribus
      Small nuggets of pure copper.
    • A pot made out of copper.
      By: Pabkov
      A pot made out of copper.
    • Copper pipes.
      By: RZ
      Copper pipes.
    • A copper bracelet.
      By: Bookworm32
      A copper bracelet.
    • Copper has an atomic number of 29 and a symbol of Cu on the periodic table.
      By: Anna
      Copper has an atomic number of 29 and a symbol of Cu on the periodic table.