A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Elements are divided into metals, metalloids, and non-metals. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen (non-metals), silicon, arsenic (metalloids), aluminium, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead (metals).
The lightest chemical elements, including hydrogen, helium (and smaller amounts of lithium, beryllium and boron), are thought to have been produced by various cosmic processes during the Big Bang and cosmic-ray spallation. Production of heavier elements, from carbon to the very heaviest elements, proceeded by stellar nucleosynthesis, and these were made available for later solar system and planetary formation by planetary nebulae and supernovae, which blast these elements into space. The high abundance of oxygen, silicon, and iron on Earth reflects their common production in such stars, after the lighter gaseous elements and their compounds have been subtracted. While most elements are generally viewed as stable, a small amount of natural transformation of one element to another also occurs at the present time through decay of radioactive elements as well as other natural nuclear processes.
In physics and electrical engineering, a conductor is an object or type of material which permits the flow of electric charges in one or more directions. For example, a wire is an electrical conductor that can carry electricity along its length.
In metals such as copper or aluminum, the movable charged particles are electrons. Positive charges may also be mobile, such as the cationic electrolyte(s) of a battery, or the mobile protons of the proton conductor of a fuel cell. Insulators are non-conducting materials with few mobile charges and which support only insignificant electric currents.
The noble metals are metals that are resistant to corrosion and oxidation in moist air, unlike most base metals. They tend to be precious, often due to their rarity in the Earth's crust. The noble metals are most commonly considered to be ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, silver, osmium, iridium, platinum, and gold.
Other sources include mercury, rhenium or copper as a noble metal. On the other hand, titanium, niobium, and tantalum are not included as noble metals, although they especially resist corrosion. Noble metals should not be confused with precious metals (although many noble metals have high value).
In chemistry, the term transition metal (or transition element) has two possible meanings:
Jensen reviews the history of the terms "transition element" (or "metal") and "d-block". The word transition was first used to describe the elements now known as the d-block by the English chemist Charles Bury in 1921, who referred to a transition series of elements during the change of an inner layer of electrons (for example n=3 in the 4th row of the periodic table) from a stable group of 8 to one of 18, or from 18 to 32.
Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by mass of silver and 7.5% by mass of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925.
Fine silver, for example 99.9% pure silver, is generally too soft for producing functional objects; therefore, the silver is usually alloyed with copper to give it strength while preserving the ductility and beauty of the precious metal. Other metals can replace the copper, usually with the intention of improving various properties of the basic sterling alloy such as reducing casting porosity, eliminating firescale, and increasing resistance to tarnish. These replacement metals include germanium, zinc and platinum, as well as a variety of other additives, including silicon and boron. A number of alloys, such as Argentium sterling silver, have appeared in recent years, formulated to lessen firescale or to inhibit tarnish, and this has sparked heavy competition among the various manufacturers, who are rushing to make claims of having the best formulation. However, no one alloy has emerged to replace copper as the industry standard, and alloy development is a very active area.
A precious metal is a rare, naturally occurring metallic chemical element of high economic value. Chemically, the precious metals are less reactive than most elements. They are usually ductile and have a high lustre. Historically, precious metals were important as currency but are now regarded mainly as investment and industrial commodities. Gold, silver, platinum, and palladium each have an ISO 4217 currency code.
The best-known precious metals are the coinage metals, gold and silver. While both have industrial uses, they are better known for their uses in art, jewellery and coinage. Other precious metals include the platinum group metals: ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum, of which platinum is the most widely traded.