What Are Metals?

What is a metal?

All elements that effectively conduct heat and electricity are metals. This class of elements forms bonds with nonmetals, readily losing electrons to form cations. Delocalized electrons contribute to a “sea of electrons” that allow proficient conductivity (for clarity on this point, visit this post). There are multiple types of metals which, though they share these characteristics, have different properties and uses. You can refer to a periodic table (and learn how to read it) here.

Alkaline earth metals

Properties
  • Slightly reactive
  • Low densities
  • Low melting points
  • Low boiling points
  • Combines with halogens readily
  • Shiny grayish white in appearance
  • Forms alkaline (basic) solutions
  • Colored flames (for example, barium burns bright green)
  • Not found isolated in nature due to reactivity
Elements
  • Beryllium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Strontium
  • Barium
  • Radium

Alkali metals

Properties
  • Soft
  • Highly reactive with water (check out this video to see!)
  • Reactivity increases going down the periodic table
  • Low melting points
  • Low boiling points
  • Low densities
  • Byproducts of reactions with water produce alkaline solutions
Elements
  • Lithium
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Rubidium
  • Cesium
  • Francium

Transition metals

Properties
  • Numerous oxidation states
  • Form colored compounds
  • Can form numerous compounds (due to variable oxidation states)
  • Low reactivity
Elements
  • Scandium
  • Titanium
  • Vanadium
  • Chromium
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Cobalt
  • Nickel
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Yttrium
  • Zirconium
  • Niobium
  • Molybdenum
  • Technetium
  • Ruthenium
  • Rhodium
  • Palladium
  • Silver
  • Cadmium
  • Hafnium
  • Tantalum
  • Tungsten
  • Rhenium
  • Osmium
  • Iridium
  • Platinum
  • Gold
  • Mercury
  • Rutherfordium
  • Dubnium
  • Seaborgium
  • Bohrium
  • Hassium
  • Meitnerium
  • Darmstadtium
  • Roentgenium
  • Copernicium

“Rare” earth metals (lanthanides and actinides)

Properties
  • They were originally thought to be rare, but they occur in high quantities in the earth’s crust. Since many are so similar, it is difficult to tell them apart on the surface.
  • Many lanthanides are formed from the nuclear decay of plutonium and uranium
  • Chemical reactivity depends mostly on atomic size
  • Lanthanides decrease in size with increasing atomic number (a phenomenon called lanthanide contraction)
  • Soft
  • High density
  • Hard
  • Ductile
  • Actinides are radioactive
  • Actinides are ignite spontaneously in air (pyrophoric)
Elements
  • Lanthanum (Starting with lanthanides)
  • Cerium
  • Praseodymium
  • Neodymium
  • Promethium
  • Samarium
  • Europium
  • Gadolinium
  • Terbium
  • Dysprosium
  • Holmium
  • Erbium
  • Thulium
  • Ytterbium
  • Lutetium
  • Actinium (starting with actinides)
  • Thorium
  • Protactinium
  • Uranium
  • Neptunium
  • Plutonium
  • Americium
  • Curium
  • Berkelium
  • Californium
  • Einsteinium
  • Fermium
  • Mendelevium
  • Nobelium
  • Lawrencium

Extra resources

For more technical details on metals, look here for all metals, alkaline earth metals, transition metals, and lanthanides and actinides.

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