The chemical element silver is classed as transition metal. It has been known since ancient times. Its discoverer and discovery date are unknown.
|Classification:||Silver is a transition metal|
|Melting point:||961.95 oC, 1235.1 K|
|Boiling point:||2155 oC, 2428 K|
|Neutrons in most abundant isotope:||60|
|Electron configuration:||[Kr] 4d10 5s1|
|Density @ 20oC:||10.5 g/cm3|
|Atomic volume:||10.3 cm3/mol|
|Structure:||fcc: face-centered cubic|
|Specific heat capacity||0.235 J g-1 K-1|
|Heat of fusion||11.30 kJ mol-1|
|Heat of atomization||284 kJ mol-1|
|Heat of vaporization||250.580 kJ mol-1|
|1st ionization energy||731 kJ mol-1|
|2nd ionization energy||2073.5 kJ mol-1|
|3rd ionization energy||3360.6 kJ mol-1|
|Electron affinity||125.6 kJ mol-1|
|Minimum oxidation number||0|
|Min. common oxidation no.||0|
|Maximum oxidation number||3|
|Max. common oxidation no.||1|
|Electronegativity (Pauling Scale)||1.93|
|Polarizability volume||7.9 Å3|
|Reaction with air||mild, ⇒ Ag2O|
|Reaction with 15 M HNO3||mild, ⇒ AgNO3|
|Reaction with 6 M HCl||none|
|Reaction with 6 M NaOH||–|
|Oxide(s)||Ag2O, AgO (silver peroxide:Ag2O.Ag2O3)|
|Atomic radius||160 pm|
|Ionic radius (1+ ion)||128 pm|
|Ionic radius (2+ ion)||108 pm|
|Ionic radius (3+ ion)||89 pm|
|Ionic radius (1- ion)||–|
|Ionic radius (2- ion)||–|
|Ionic radius (3- ion)||–|
|Thermal conductivity||429 W m-1 K-1|
|Electrical conductivity||62.9 x 106 S m-1|
|Freezing/Melting point:||961.95 oC, 1235.1 K|
Discovery of Silver
Silver has been in use since prehistoric times. We do not know who its discoverer was, although the discovery would almost certainly have been of native silver.
Nuggets of native silver metal can be found in minerals and sometimes in rivers; but they are rare. Despite native silver’s rarity, very large pieces of it have been found, such as “pieces of native silver as big as stove lids and cannon balls” found in the early 1900s in Northern Ontario, Canada. (1)
Silver objects dating from before 4000 BC have been found in Greece and from slightly later in Anatolia (in modern Turkey). Silver artifacts have been found in the Sumerian city of Kish dating from about 3000 BC. (2), (3), (4)
Silver and lead often appear together in nature, for example in the mineral galena which is mainly lead sulfide. Galena actually looks metallic (see image) and would have caught the eyes of people looking for metals.
The silver objects found in Greece, Turkey and Kish were made of silver that was refined from lead-containing ores such as galena. (Humans have been successful chemists for a surprisingly long time.)
First the ore was smelted under reducing conditions to obtain a mixture of silver and lead. The metals then went through cupellation: the metals were heated to about 1000 oC in a strong stream of air. Under these conditions lead reacts with oxygen forming lead oxide, leaving liquid silver metal floating on top. (3), (4)
Our name for the element is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for silver, ‘seolfor,’ which itself comes from ancient Germanic ‘silabar.’
Silver’s chemical symbol, Ag, is an abbreviation of the Latin word for silver, ‘argentum.’ The Latin word originates from argunas, a Sanskrit word meaning shining. (5)
The historical association between silver and money is still found in some languages. The French word for silver is argent, and the same word is used for money. The Romans used the word ‘argentarius’ to mean banker (silver trader). (6)
Appearance and Characteristics
Silver is considered to be non-toxic. However, most silver salts are poisonous and some may be carcinogenic.
Silver is a soft, ductile, malleable, lustrous metal. It has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of all metals.
Uses of Silver
Sterling silver (an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper) or Britannia silver (an alloy of 95.8% silver and 4.2% copper) are used for jewelry and silverware.
Silver is used as a food additive/coloring and is given the E number E174.
About 30% of silver produced is used in the photographic industry, mostly as silver nitrate.
Silver is used in solders, electrical contacts, and silver-cadmium and silver-zinc batteries. Silver paints are used in the manufacture of electronic printed circuits.
It is used in superior mirror production, as silver is the best known reflector of visible light, although it does tarnish over time.
Silver iodide is used in artificial rain making to seed clouds.
Silver compounds were used successfully to prevent infection in World War 1.
Abundance and Isotopes
Abundance earth’s crust: 75 parts per billion by weight, 20 parts per billion by moles
Abundance solar system: 1 part per billion by weight, 10 parts per trillion by moles
Cost, pure: $120 per 100g
Cost, bulk: $57.5 per 100g
Source: Silver is found in elemental form and also in various ores such as argentite (silver sulfide, Ag2S) and horn silver (silver chloride, AgCl). Commercially, the main sources of silver are copper, copper-nickel, gold, lead, and lead-zinc ores. Silver is extracted from the anode waste sludges of electrolytic copper-refining.
Isotopes: Silver has 35 isotopes whose half-lives are known, with mass numbers 94 to 128. Naturally occurring silver is a mixture of its two stable isotopes, 107Ag and 109Ag with natural abundances of 51.8% and 48.2% respectively.
1. Charles Dumaresq, The Rise and Fall of a Mining Camp., Cobalt Mining Legacy.
2. Barbara S. Ottaway and Ben Roberts, The Emergence of Metalworking., Prehistoric Europe: Theory and Practice edited by Andrew Jones, 2008, p208, Wiley-Blackwell.
3. Hadi Ozbal, Ancient Anatolian Metallurgy., 2001. (pdf download)
4. Mesopotamia, The International History Project, 2003.
5. Vivi Ringnes, Origin of the Names of Chemical Elements., J. Chem. Educ., 1989, 66 (9), p731.
6. Thomas Patrick Mohide, The International Silver Trade., 1992, p2, Woodhead Publishing.
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