Nickel looks like a typical metal with its silvery white color, but its properties make it more versatile than other metallic elements. Its hardness, ductility, strength and resistance to corrosion and heat make it ideal for coins, wires, military hardware and more.
Properties of Nickel
A transition metal, nickel has two shells with valance electrons, which allows it to create different types of oxidation states. Set at number 28 on the Periodic Table of Elements, it is good at conducting heat and electricity and is ferromagnetic at room temperature. Like iron and cobalt, nickel is easy to magnetize.
It has an atomic number of 28 with a 58.6 atomic weight. Assigned the Ni symbol, nickel is solid at room temperature and has a density of 8.9 grams per cu cm. Its boiling point is 5,275.4 F (2,913 C) and the melting point is 1,455 degrees Celsius or 2,651 degrees Fahrenheit. There are 31 isotopes for nickel, 26 unstable and 5 stable. The most common is NI-58.
Facts about Nickel
A lot of meteorites are comprised of iron and nickel. Ancient Egyptians regarded them highly and turned them into objects for decoration. Archaeologists have discovered beads built from meteorites in the Gerzeh graves along the Nile River’s west bank. These have been dated to 3300 BC.
Nickel is also used unsaturated in compound hydrogenation as a catalyst. With nickel it becomes possible to turn substances from liquid to solid. As a catalyst, nickel can also be used to make soap, margarine and shortening. Nickel can also be used for making jewelry but it can be a cause of skin allergy as well.
Nickel isn’t just found on Earth, as the Supernova 2007bi generated nickel three times more than the sun. This allowed the star to burn brightly for a long time.
Discovery of Nickel
The metal was discovered at 1600s. German miners looking for copper in the Ore Mountains found nickel niccolite or arsenide, though they thought then it was copper. They were unable to get copper from it of course, and the miners thought the demon Nickel was the culprit. They began calling the ore kupfernickel, meaning copper demon.
It was in 1751 when the Baron Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, an alchemist from Sweden, tried heating kupfernickel. He discover the metal was magnetic and white so it clearly was not copper. He successfully isolated nickel and announced a new metal, calling it nickel.
Uses and Applications
You’re not going to find a lot of things comprised of 100% nickel. This metal is usually added as a material stabilizer so the combined metal appears more durable, shinier and stronger. Nickel is often used as outer coating protection for soft elements.
Nickel is often used to create powerful metal alloys, heat resistant, invulnerable to oxidation and corrosion. Combining nickel with other elements make metal stronger. More than 60% of processed nickel is used to make stainless steel, while the rest is is used for non-iron alloys and steel. Nickel is also used in the aerospace industry, electronics, batteries, coins and others.
Nickel and Coins
Nickel is ideal for making coins since it is durable and resistant to corrosion. The first coin to contain nickel was the Flying Eagle, which was circulated from 1857-58. Made in the US, the coin consisted of 88% copper and 12% nickel.
In 1866 a five cent nickel came out just after the Civil War. Before the war, silver and gold were still commonly used and they were highly valued. But as rumors of the war began to circulate, gold and silver were hoarded, hurting the US economy.
Nickel was used extensively during the war and Joseph Wharton, an industrialist, was one of those who bought nickel mines. When the war ended, Wharton was still left with a lot of nickels and nowhere to put them.
Wharton then suggested to the government to make nickel coins. He argued that people wouldn’t hoard them since they weren’t a valuable metal. The American government agreed and nickel coins became widespread following the war. Today, half dollars, quarters, nickels and dimes still have nickel in them.
Nickel is found in fruits, vegetables, chocolate and nuts. Only trace amounts are found and that’s sufficient for plants and humans alike. However too much nickel is dangerous as it is carcinogenic. Too much nickel in the body makes you vulnerable to various health issues.
Those who weld, electroplating and mining are the most likely to suffer from nickel overexposure. Breathing excessive amounts of nickel dust also makes you vulnerable to fibrosis and lung cancer.
Nickel is widely used in various industries and it is also essential for human health. Its ability to conduct electricity only adds to its usefulness.