Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (from Latin: cuprum) and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; a freshly exposed surface has a reddish-orange color. It is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, a building material, and a constituent of various metal alloys.
The metal and its alloys have been used for thousands of years. In the Roman era, copper was principally mined on Cyprus, hence the origin of the name of the metal as сyprium (metal of Cyprus), later shortened to сuprum. Its compounds are commonly encountered as copper salts, which often impart blue or green colors to minerals such as azurite and turquoise and have been widely used historically as pigments. Architectural structures built with copper corrode to give green verdigris (or patina). Decorative art prominently features copper, both by itself and as part of pigments.
Copper is essential to all living organisms as a trace dietary mineral because it is a key constituent of the respiratory enzyme complex cytochrome c oxidase. In molluscs and crustacea copper is a constituent of the blood pigment hemocyanin, which is replaced by the iron-complexed hemoglobin in fish and other vertebrates. The main areas where copper is found in vertebrate animals are liver, muscle and bone. In sufficient concentration, copper compounds are poisonous to higher organisms and are used as bacteriostatic substances, fungicides, and wood preservatives.
The major applications of copper are in electrical wires (60%), roofing and plumbing (20%) and industrial machinery (15%). Copper is mostly used as a metal, but when a higher hardness is required it is combined with other elements to make an alloy (5% of total use) such as brass and bronze. A small part of copper supply is used in production of compounds for nutritional supplements and fungicides in agriculture. Machining of copper is possible, although it is usually necessary to use an alloy for intricate parts to get good machinability characteristics.
Despite competition from other materials, copper remains the preferred electrical conductor in nearly all categories of electrical wiring with the major exception being overhead electric power transmission where aluminium is often preferred. Copper wire is used in power generation, power transmission, power distribution, telecommunications, electronics circuitry, and countless types of electrical equipment. Electrical wiring is the most important market for the copper industry. This includes building wire, communications cable, power distribution cable, appliance wire, automotive wire and cable, and magnet wire. Roughly half of all copper mined is used to manufacture electrical wire and cable conductors. Many electrical devices rely on copper wiring because of its multitude of inherent beneficial properties, such as its high electrical conductivity, tensile strength, ductility, creep (deformation) resistance, corrosion resistance, low thermal expansion, high thermal conductivity, solderability, and ease of installation.
Integrated circuits and printed circuit boards increasingly feature copper in place of aluminium because of its superior electrical conductivity; heat sinks and heat exchangers use copper as a result of its superior heat dissipation capacity to aluminium. Electromagnets, vacuum tubes, cathode ray tubes, and magnetrons in microwave ovens use copper, as do wave guides for microwave radiation.
Copper's greater conductivity versus other metallic materials enhances the electrical energy efficiency of motors. This is important because motors and motor-driven systems account for 43%-46% of all global electricity consumption and 69% of all electricity used by industry. Increasing the mass and cross section of copper in a coil increases the electrical energy efficiency of the motor. Copper motor rotors, a new technology designed for motor applications where energy savings are prime design objectives, are enabling general-purpose induction motors to meet and exceed National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) premium efficiency standards.
Copper has been used since ancient times as a durable, corrosion resistant, and weatherproof architectural material. Roofs, flashings, rain gutters, downspouts, domes, spires, vaults, and doors have been made from copper for hundreds or thousands of years. Copper's architectural use has been expanded in modern times to include interior and exterior wall cladding, building expansion joints, radio frequency shielding, and antimicrobial indoor products, such as attractive handrails, bathroom fixtures, and counter tops. Some of copper's other important benefits as an architectural material include its low thermal movement, light weight, lightning protection, and its recyclability.
The metal's distinctive natural green patina has long been coveted by architects and designers. The final patina is a particularly durable layer that is highly resistant to atmospheric corrosion, thereby protecting the underlying metal against further weathering. It can be a mixture of carbonate and sulfate compounds in various amounts, depending upon environmental conditions such as sulfur-containing acid rain. Architectural copper and its alloys can also be 'finished' to embark a particular look, feel, and/or color. Finishes include mechanical surface treatments, chemical coloring, and coatings. Copper has excellent brazing and soldering properties and can be welded; the best results are obtained with gas metal arc welding.
Copper has long been used as a biostatic surface to line parts of ships to protect against barnacles and mussels. It was originally used pure, but has since been superseded by Muntz metal. Bacteria will not grow on a copper surface because it is biostatic. Similarly, as discussed in copper alloys in aquaculture, copper alloys have become important netting materials in the aquaculture industry because of the fact that they are antimicrobial and prevent biofouling, even in extreme conditions and have strong structural and corrosion-resistant properties in marine environments.
Numerous antimicrobial efficacy studies have been conducted in the past 10 years regarding copper's efficacy to destroy a wide range of bacteria, as well as influenza A virus, adenovirus, and fungi.
Copper-alloy touch surfaces have natural intrinsic properties to destroy a wide range of microorganisms (e.g., E. coli O157:H7, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Staphylococcus, Clostridium difficile, influenza A virus, adenovirus, and fungi). Some 355 copper alloys were proven to kill more than 99.9% of disease-causing bacteria within just two hours when cleaned regularly. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the registrations of these copper alloys as "antimicrobial materials with public health benefits," which allows manufacturers to legally make claims as to the positive public health benefits of products made with registered antimicrobial copper alloys. In addition, the EPA has approved a long list of antimicrobial copper products made from these alloys, such as bedrails, handrails, over-bed tables, sinks, faucets, door knobs, toilet hardware, computer keyboards, health club equipment, shopping cart handles, etc. Copper doorknobs are used by hospitals to reduce the transfer of disease, and Legionnaires' disease is suppressed by copper tubing in plumbing systems. Antimicrobial copper alloy products are now being installed in healthcare facilities in the U.K., Ireland, Japan, Korea, France, Denmark, and Brazil and in the subway transit system in Santiago, Chile, where copper-zinc alloy handrails will be installed in some 30 stations between 2011–2014.
Copper compounds in liquid form are used as a wood preservative, particularly in treating original portion of structures during restoration of damage due to dry rot. Together with zinc, copper wires may be placed over non-conductive roofing materials to discourage the growth of moss. Textile fibers use copper to create antimicrobial protective fabrics, as do ceramic glazes, stained glass and musical instruments. Electroplating commonly uses copper as a base for other metals such as nickel.
Copper is one of three metals, along with lead and silver, used in a museum materials testing procedure called the Oddy test. In this procedure, copper is used to detect chlorides, oxides, and sulfur compounds.
Copper is also commonly found in jewelry, and folklore says that copper bracelets relieve arthritis symptoms, though this has been shown to be incorrect.
Copper oxide and carbonate is used in glassmaking and in ceramic glazes to impart green and brown colours. (source Wikipedia)
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