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What Makes a Metal?

Updated on November 29, 2012
Most of the elements in the Periodic Table are metals. Everything to the left of the thick black line is a metal. Metals have specific properties that make them 'metal.'
Most of the elements in the Periodic Table are metals. Everything to the left of the thick black line is a metal. Metals have specific properties that make them 'metal.' | Source

Properties of Metals

Most elements in the Periodic Table are made of Metal. They are very useful in our everyday lives being used in everything from construction to electronics to cookware. But how do you know something is a metal?

  • Shiny - most metals are shiny when freshly cut or polished
  • Thermal Conductors - metals conduct heat very easily
  • Electrical Conductors - metals conduct electricity
  • High Melting and Boiling Points - metals are quite difficult to melt, with the exception of Mercury (which is a liquid at room temperature)
  • Ductile - metals can be drawn into long, thin wires
  • Malleable - metals can be reshaped easily
  • Flexible - metals bend without snapping
  • Sonorous - metals make a ringing sound when hit
  • Magnetic - Cobalt, Nickel, Iron and Steel are magnetic

Uses of Metals

The uses of a material depend on the properties. Metals have a wide variety of useful properties and so are used for a number of different purposes. This does not mean, however, that all metals can do all jobs; some metals are better suited to certain tasks than others. For example:

  • Aluminium is used in high performance cars as it is lightweight and strong;
  • Iron is used for manhole covers as it is strong and cheap;
  • Copper is used for electrical cabling because it is a very good electrical conductor;
  • Gold is used in jewelry because it is very shiny and does not tarnish;
  • Steel is used in bridges because it is very strong and is not as brittle as iron.

Uses and Properties of Metals

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The use of metals dominates the construction industry. The Golden Gate Bridge uses the tensile strength of steel to support the massive structure.They can be drawn into wires (ductile) and are easily shaped (malleable)Metals conduct electricity......and thermal energy (heat). They are usually shiny and make a ringing sound when struck (they are sonorous).
The use of metals dominates the construction industry. The Golden Gate Bridge uses the tensile strength of steel to support the massive structure.
The use of metals dominates the construction industry. The Golden Gate Bridge uses the tensile strength of steel to support the massive structure. | Source
They can be drawn into wires (ductile) and are easily shaped (malleable)
They can be drawn into wires (ductile) and are easily shaped (malleable)
Metals conduct electricity...
Metals conduct electricity... | Source
...and thermal energy (heat). They are usually shiny and make a ringing sound when struck (they are sonorous).
...and thermal energy (heat). They are usually shiny and make a ringing sound when struck (they are sonorous). | Source

Uses and Properties of Non-Metals

At first glance, non-metals seem to be quite useless - non-metals are:

  • Dull;
  • Easily melted and boiled - non-metals have low melting and boiling points
  • Brittle - non-metals snap easily;
  • Insulator of heat and electricity - non-metals do not allow heat or electricity to flow through.

However, non-metals form the backbone of life (carbon), the air we breathe (Nitrogen, Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide), and nutrients in the soil. Non-metals are also used on saucepan handles and around electrical equipment, where their insulating properties are useful. Engineers are also starting to find forms of non-metals that buck the trends of their counterparts: carbon fibre is a non metal that is very strong, ductile and malleable.

Uses and Properties of Non-Metals

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Non-metals have very low melting and boiling points. This sample of dry ice (carbon)is subliming - changing from solid to gas without becoming a liquid - at room temperature.Sulphur is one of the solid non-metals and is found naturally around volcanoes. It melts easily and does not conduct electricity or heat.But don't think non-metals are useless. We use many non metals in fluorescent signage......and carbon is now being used in racing cars as a super-strong, super lightweight material, carbon fibre. Volcanoes spew out tonnes of material during an eruption, most of it non-metal in nature. These non-metals are great fertilisers, making the areas around volcanoes rich in plant life.
Non-metals have very low melting and boiling points. This sample of dry ice (carbon)is subliming - changing from solid to gas without becoming a liquid - at room temperature.
Non-metals have very low melting and boiling points. This sample of dry ice (carbon)is subliming - changing from solid to gas without becoming a liquid - at room temperature. | Source
Sulphur is one of the solid non-metals and is found naturally around volcanoes. It melts easily and does not conduct electricity or heat.
Sulphur is one of the solid non-metals and is found naturally around volcanoes. It melts easily and does not conduct electricity or heat. | Source
But don't think non-metals are useless. We use many non metals in fluorescent signage...
But don't think non-metals are useless. We use many non metals in fluorescent signage... | Source
...and carbon is now being used in racing cars as a super-strong, super lightweight material, carbon fibre.
...and carbon is now being used in racing cars as a super-strong, super lightweight material, carbon fibre. | Source
Volcanoes spew out tonnes of material during an eruption, most of it non-metal in nature. These non-metals are great fertilisers, making the areas around volcanoes rich in plant life.
Volcanoes spew out tonnes of material during an eruption, most of it non-metal in nature. These non-metals are great fertilisers, making the areas around volcanoes rich in plant life. | Source

Properties of Metals and Non Metals

Property
Metal
Non-Metal
Physical State at Room Temperature
Solid (except Mercury)
Solid, Liquid or Gas
Melting Point
High
Low
Boiling Point
High
Low
Electrical Conductor?
Yes
No
Thermal Conductor?
Yes
No
Flexible?
Yes
No
Malleable?
Yes
No
Ductile?
Yes
No
Sonorous?
Yes
No
Magnetic?
Some (Cobalt, Iron, Nickel and Steel)
No
A table summarising the properties of metals and non metals.

Metals and Non Metals Summary

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    • profile image

      Ieuan 11 months ago

      This article isn't 100% accurate. Not all metals are malleable, steel is not malleable because it is brittle whilst something like clay is malleable. Steel is also not flexible because of it's brittleness. And most ferrous metals (Metals that contain and/or are magnetic) Are magnetic, although I believe there's one non-ferrous metal that is, or maybe one ferrous metal is not magnetic.

    • sprickita profile image

      sprickita 3 years ago from Reno

      You have neat hubs ty...