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Chemistry - The Discovery of Metals

People probably discovered how to extract metals from their ores by accident when rocks containing metal were heated with charcoal in fireplaces.

A chemical reaction called reduction would have taken place which freed the metal from its ore. The same reaction is still used in blast furnaces to extract iron.

The First Metals

The first metals worked by people were copper, gold and silver, probably because these are found as pure metals.

In about 3500 BC, the Sumerians learned how to make bronze by combining copper and tin. Bronze is stronger than the pure metals.

Iron was not used until around 1350 BC, probably because it needs much higher temperatures to separate it from its compounds.

New Metals

Up until 1735 AD, the only known metals were copper, silver, gold, iron, mercury, tin, zinc, bismuth, antimony and lead.

Aluminium was discovered in 1825.

Now scientists can create new metal elements, such as mendelevium, by bombarding atoms with electrons in a particle accelerator, which is a type of nuclear reactor. The atoms break apart under the bombardment, enabling scientists to get a glimpse of their structure.

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