Properties of Silver

Whether it’s as coins, as carriers of electricity, or a component in photographic film, silver has many uses. – Read on the fun facts about silver.

Silver, copper, and gold (elements in Group IB of the Periodic Table of the Elements) are all used to mint coins. They have been used this way for many years, primarily because the metals can occur in the native, or uncombined, state (not requiring laborious separation from ore). Silver is relatively soft and quite lustrous. It is a high conductor of heat and electricity, but its cost is so high that it rarely finds use for these purposes.

Silver is quite an unreactive metal. It doesn’t dissolve in even concentrated hydrochloric acid, although nitric acid will attack and dissolve it. In the natural world, the two most important silver containing compounds are silver chloride (AgCl) and silver sulfide (Ag2S). This sulfide is partially responsible for the blackening of silver teasets and the need for constant polishing to keep them in their mirror-like finish. Even eating sulfide-containing food with silver utensils is sufficient to produce blackening of the surface.

Silver is ductile and malleable, meaning it can be beaten over and over again, and beaten quite thin (although, not as thin as gold, perhaps the record keeper in this department). It’s a great reflector of light, finding use in astronomy and certain telescope components. It also has a certain fashionable aspect, but pure silver is a bit soft to fashion into fine jewelry. In order to take away some of this softness of the metal, copper is often alloyed with molten silver to produce so called “sterling silver” (7.5% copper / 92.5% silver by weight). This material retains the appearance of pure silver but is much harder, enabling fine detail to be produced without placing undue strain on the material.

Silver continues to find use in a wide range of applications. Mirrors, for example. A thin film of metallic silver is deposited on a clean piece of glass using an organic chemistry technique, and the result is a flawless mirror. Silver is also an essential part of photographic film, as silver salts are light sensitive and turn dark when exposed to light, depositing metallic silver. The amount of metallic silver deposited is proportional to the amount of light that struck the film at any given point, and this technology founded the birth of modern photography (although this has been eclipsed in part by the dawn of digital cameras).

Silver, lest we forget, is also quite valuable. Many buy stocks in silver commodities, even going so far as buying silver coins and ingots as a hedge against disaster. Heavy, beautiful, shiny, and valuable for many reasons – it is no wonder that silver has held the attention of mankind for so many years.