The Copper

Ancient Egyptians used the symbol "Ankh" to represent copper on their hieroglyphs. “Ankh” is also the symbol of eternal life, which is very appropriate for copper, since it has been used by civilizations for over 10,000 years.

By 1000 b.c., Greek poet Homer named the metal “Chalkos”. For this reason, the Copper Age is also known as “Chalcolithic period.”

One thousand years later, during the Christian Era, the words “aes Cyprium” appeared in the Roman writings to refer to copper, as, at that time, a great quantity of the metal came from the island of Cyprus. The English word “copper” derives from the term in Latin.

The history of Copper

According to archeological evidences, copper was used more than 10,000 years ago in Western Asia. During the Chalcolithic period, societies found out how to extract and use copper to produce ornaments and accessories. Between the 3rd and 4th millennium b.c, copper was actively extracted from the region of Huelva, in Spain. By 2500 b.c., the discovery of useful properties of copper/tin alloys led to the Bronze Age.

Some documents found indicate that the Timna Valley, in Israel, used to be a source of copper for the Pharaohs. Ancient Egypt papyruses revealed that copper was used for treating infections and sterilizing water. The island of Cyprus became known for supplying a greater part of the copper used by the ancient empires of Phoenicia, Greece, and Rome.

Although Greeks were already familiar with brass since the time of Aristotle, the alloy was not used in a greater scale until under the Roman Emperor Augustus. In South America, Pre-Columbian Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations explored copper, as well as gold and silver. In the Middle Age, copper and bronze flourished in China, India and Japan.

As the most important element in the history of civilizations, copper was the first metal to be mined and manufactured by men, since it was available in large quantities and was basically found on the surface of the soil for extraction. Additionally, it was also found that this metal was suitable for the production of weapons, tools, art objects and ornaments.

The discovery of the process required to extract copper from its ore was a major event in history, since it enabled the beginning of steelmaking activities and paved the way for the development of our major industries.

The findings and inventions by Ampère, Faraday and Ohm, in the end of the 18th and 19th centuries, pushed copper into a new era. With excellent electrical conductivity and properties that benefit the exchange of heat, copper played a relevant role in the development of the Industrial Revolution.

Curiosities about the history of copper:

  • A famous Dead Sea parchment found in Israel was produced with copper instead of animal skin.
    This parchment includes indications of a treasury that is yet to be found;
  • Archeologists recovered a piece of the piping system of the Pyramid of Cheops, in Egypt. After 5000 year, these copper pipes could still be used;
  • In the museum of the University of Pennsylvania there is a copper pan with over 50 centuries of existence;
  • When Columbus travelled to the Americas, his ships (Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina) had copper layers below the level of water. These layers enabled the hull to have a longer useful life, besides protecting it from barnacles and other types of biofouling. Currently, most vessels use a copper-based paint to protect the hull.

Physical properties of copper:

  • Malleability and Ductility;
  • Excellent electrical conductor;
  • Excellent alloy features;
  • Non-magnetic;
  • A nutrient essential to life;
  • Corrosion resistant;
  • Good machinability when alloyed with other elements;
  • Hot and cold formability;
  • Weldability;
  • Excellent heat exchange properties;
  • Durability;
  • Recyclable.

Specific copper properties:

  • Chemical Symbol:

    Cu
  • Atomic weight:

    63.55
  • Melting Point:

    1,083 ºC
  • Boiling Point:

    2,595 ºC
  • Atomic Number:

    29
  • Density:

    8.94 g/cm3
  • Annealing Temperature:

    200-650 ºC
  • Specific heat at 20 °C:

    385 J / (kg . K)
  • Crystal Structure:

    FCC (Face-centered cubic)
  • Copper formats

    Copper is sent to manufacturers, in most cases, in the form of cathode, billet, cake or ingot.

    Through mechanical processes of extrusion, wire drawing, lamination, fusion or electrolysis or atomization, manufacturers may produce wires, ribbed bard, pipes, laminates, bushing, shots and other formats. These semi-finished materials made of copper or copper alloys are sent to the manufacturers to be used in the production of goods intended to meet the needs of society.

    Copper Alloys

    • Currently, over 400 copper alloys are used worldwide;
    • Brass is basically an alloy of copper and zinc;
    • Bronze is basically an allow of copper and tin;
    • Copper-nickel is basically a copper and nickel alloy that is very important in modern manufacturers.

    The importance of copper in the 20th century increased due to its easy combination with other metals. Tin and zinc have always been primary alloy elements. However, today there are many other, like aluminum, manganese, lead, nickel, etc., which form alloys with specific physical and mechanical properties.

    The importance of copper for health

    Copper is an essential nutrient for our body. Maintaining a healthy diet requires the ingestion of 1 to 3 milligrams of copper per day. Its absence may cause illnesses, like pernicious anemia, and cardiovascular problems.

    It is possible to ingest copper through a large variety of fresh food and drinkable water. Two milligrams of copper per liter of water is the quantity recommended by the World Health Organization. Additionally, copper has antibacterial properties, and its use in piping systems notably reduces the quantity of bacteria in the water. This property cannot be found in any other materials.

    For these reasons, copper is used in several hydraulic systems in residences, hospitals and schools, being recommended for the conduction of cold and hot water, and solar heating systems.

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