The 14th International Conference on
Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences
In physics, a metal is generally regarded as any substance capable of conducting electricity at a temperature of absolute zero. Many elements and compounds that are not normally classified as metals become metallic under high pressures. For example, the nonmetal iodine gradually becomes a metal at a pressure of between 40 and 170 thousand times atmospheric pressure. Equally, some materials regarded as metals can become nonmetals. Sodium, for example, becomes a nonmetal at pressure of just under two million times atmospheric pressure.
Metals comprise 25% of the Earth's crust and are present in many aspects of modern life. The strength and resilience of some metals has led to their frequent use in, for example, high-rise building and bridge construction, as well as most vehicles, many home appliances, tools, pipes, and railroad tracks. Precious metals were historically used as coinage, but in the modern era, coinage metals have extended to at least 23 of the chemical elements.
The solid or liquid state of metals largely originates in the capacity of the metal atoms involved to readily lose their outer shell electrons. Broadly, the forces holding an individual atom's outer shell electrons in place are weaker than the attractive forces on the same electrons arising from interactions between the atoms in the solid or liquid metal. The electrons involved become delocalised and the atomic structure of a metal can effectively be visualised as a collection of atoms embedded in a cloud of relatively mobile electrons. This type of interaction is called a metallic bond. The strength of metallic bonds for different elemental metals reaches a maximum around the center of the transition metal series, as these elements have large numbers of delocalized electrons.
Heat or forces larger than a metal's elastic limit may cause a permanent (irreversible) deformation, known as plastic deformation or plasticity. An applied force may be a tensile (pulling) force, a compressive (pushing) force, or a shear, bending or torsion (twisting) force. A temperature change may affect the movement or displacement of structural defects in the metal such as grain boundaries, point vacancies, line and screw dislocations, stacking faults and twins in both crystalline and non-crystalline metals. Internal slip, creep, and metal fatigue may ensue.
The electronic structure of metals means they are relatively good conductors of electricity. Electrons in matter can only have fixed rather than variable energy levels, and in a metal the energy levels of the electrons in its electron cloud, at least to some degree, correspond to the energy levels at which electrical conduction can occur. In a semiconductor like silicon or a nonmetal like sulfur there is an energy gap between the electrons in the substance and the energy level at which electrical conduction can occur. Consequently, semiconductors and nonmetals are relatively poor conductors.
Painting, anodizing or plating metals are good ways to prevent their corrosion. However, a more reactive metal in the electrochemical series must be chosen for coating, especially when chipping of the coating is expected. Water and the two metals form an electrochemical cell, and if the coating is less reactive than the underlying metal, the coating actually promotes corrosion.
Most pure metals are either too soft, brittle or chemically reactive for practical use. Combining different ratios of metals as alloys modifies the properties of pure metals to produce desirable characteristics. The aim of making alloys is generally to make them less brittle, harder, resistant to corrosion, or have a more desirable color and luster. Of all the metallic alloys in use today, the alloys of iron (steel, stainless steel, cast iron, tool steel, alloy steel) make up the largest proportion both by quantity and commercial value. Iron alloyed with various proportions of carbon gives low, mid and high carbon steels, with increasing carbon levels reducing ductility and toughness. The addition of silicon will produce cast irons, while the addition of chromium, nickel and molybdenum to carbon steels (more than 10%) results in stainless steels.
A heavy metal is any relatively dense metal or metalloid. More specific definitions have been proposed, but none have obtained widespread acceptance. Some heavy metals have niche uses, or are notably toxic; some are essential in trace amounts. All other metals are light metals.
In alchemy and numismatics, the term base metal is contrasted with precious metal, that is, those of high economic value. A longtime goal of the alchemists was the transmutation of base metals into precious metals including such coinage metals as silver and gold. Most coins today are made of base metals with no intrinsic value, in the past, coins frequently derived their value primarily from their precious metal content.
Metals condense in planets as a result of stellar evolution and destruction processes. Stars lose much of their mass when it is ejected late in their lifetimes, and sometimes thereafter as a result of a neutron star merger, thereby increasing the abundance of elements heavier than helium in the interstellar medium. When gravitational attraction causes this matter to coalesce and collapse new stars and planets are formed.