Copper is an essential trace nutrient to all high plants and animals. In animals, including humans, it is found primarily in the bloodstream, as a co-factor in various enzymes and in copper-based pigments. However, in sufficient amounts, copper can be poisonous and even fatal to organisms.
Copper has played a significant part in the history of mankind, which has used the easily accessible uncompounded metal for thousands of years. Evidence has been preserved from several early civilizations of the use of copper. In the roman era, copper was principally mined on Cyprus, hence the origin of the name of the metal as Cyprium, "metal of Cyprus", later shortened to Cuprum.
A number of countries, such as Chile and the United States, still have sizable reserves of the metal which are extracted through large open pit mines. However, like tin, there may be insufficient reserves to sustain current rates of consumption. High demand relative to supply caused a price spike in the 2000s.
Copper has a significant presence as a decorative metal art. It can also be used as an anti-germ surface that can add to the anti-bacterial and antimicrobial features of buildings such as hospitals.
Copper smelting appears to have been developed independently in several parts of the world. In addition to its development in the Balkans by 5,500 BC, it was developed in China before 2800 BC, in the Andes around 2000 BC, in Central America around 600 AD, and in West Africa around 900 AD. Copper is found extensively in the Indus Valley Civilization by the 3rd millennium BC. In Europe, Ötzi the Iceman, a well-preserved male dated to 3300-3200 BC, was found with an axe tipped with copper that was 99.7% pure. High levels of arsenic in his hair suggest he was involved in copper smelting. Over the course of centuries, experience with copper has assisted the development of other metals; for example, knowledge of copper smelting led to the discovery of iron smelting.
In the Americas production in the Old Copper Complex, located in present day Michigan and Wisconsin, was dated back to between 6000 to 3000 BC.
By 2000 BC, Europe was using bronze. The use of bronze became so pervasive in a certain era of civilization (approximately 2500 BC to 600 BC in Europe) that it has been named the Bronze Age. The transitional period in certain regions between the preceding Neolithic period and the Bronze Age is termed the Chalcolithic ("copper-stone"), with some high-purity copper tools being used alongside stone tools. Brass (copper-zinc) was known to the Greeks, but only became a significant supplement to bronze during the Roman empire.
During the Bronze Age, one copper mine at Great Orme in North Wales, extended for a depth of 70 metres. At Alderley Edge in Cheshire, carbon dates have established mining at around 2280 to 1890 BC (at 95% probability).
In Greek the metal was known by the name chalkos (χαλκός). Copper was a very important resource for the Romans, Greeks and other ancient peoples. In Roman times, it became known as aes Cyprium (aes being the generic Latin term for copper alloys such as bronze and other metals, and Cyprium because so much of it was mined in Cyprus). From this, the phrase was simplified to cuprum and then eventually Anglicized into the English copper. Copper was associated with the goddess Aphrodite/Venus in mythology and alchemy, owing to its lustrous beauty, its ancient use in producing mirrors, and its association with Cyprus, which was sacred to the goddess. In astrology alchemy the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients were associated with seven metals also known in antiquity, and Venus was assigned to copper.
Britain's first use of brass occurred some time around the 3rd - 2nd century B.C. In north America, copper mining began with marginal workings by Native Americans. Native copper is known to have been extracted from sites on Isle Royale with primitive stone tools between 800 and 1600.
Copper metallurgy was flourishing in South America, particularly in Peru around the beginning of the first millennium AD. Copper technology proceeded at a much slower rate on other continents. Africa's major location for copper reserves is Zambia. Copper burial ornamentals dated from the 15th century have been uncovered, but the metal's commercial production did not start until the early 1900s. Australian copper artifacts exist, but they appear only after the arrival of the Europeans; the aboriginal culture apparently did not develop their own metallurgical abilities.
Crucial in the metallurgical and technological worlds, copper has also played an important cultural role, particularly in currency. Romans in the 6th through 3rd centuries B.C. used copper lumps as money. At first, just the copper itself was valued, but gradually the shape and look of the copper became more important. Julius Caesar had his own coins, made from a copper-zinc alloy, while Octavianus Augustus Caesar's) coins were made from Cu-Pb-Sn alloys.
The gates of the Temple of Jerusalem used Corinthian bronze made by depletion gilding. Corinthian bronze was most prevalent in Alexandria, where alchemy is thought to have begun. In ancient India (before 1000 B.C.), copper was used in the holistic medical science Ayurveda for surgical instruments and other medical equipment. Ancient Egyptians (~2400 B.C.) used copper for sterilizing wounds and drinking water, and as time passed, (~1500 B.C.) for headaches, burns, and itching. Hippocrates (~400 B.C.) used copper to treat leg ulcers associated with varicose veins. Ancient Aztecs fought sore throats by gargling with copper mixtures.
Copper is also the part of many rich stories and legends, such as that of Iraq's Baghdad Battery. Copper cylinders soldered to lead, which date back to 248 B.C. to 226 A.D, resemble a galvanic cell, leading people to believe this may have been the first battery. This claim has so far not been substantiated.
The Bible also refers to the importance of copper: "Men know how to mine silver and refine gold, to dig iron from the earth and melt copper from stone" (Job. 28:1-2).
Throughout history, copper's use in art has extended far beyond currency. Vannoccio Biringuccio, Giorgio Vasari and Benvenuto Cellini are three Renaissance sculptors from the mid 1500s, notable for their work with bronze. From about 1560 to about 1775, thin sheets of copper were commonly used as a canvas for paintings. Silver plated copper was used in the pre-photograph known as the daguerreotype. The Statue of Liberty, dedicated on October 28, 1886, was constructed of copper thought to have come from French-owned mines in Norway.
Plating was a technology that began started in the mid 1600s in some areas. One common use for copper plating, widespread in the 1700s, was the sheathing of ships' hulls. Copper sheathing could be used to protect wooden hulled ships from algae, and from the shipworm "toredo". The ships of Christopher Columbus were among the earliest to have this protection.
In the early 1800s, it was discovered that copper wire could be used as a conductor, but it wasn't until 1990 that copper, in oxide form, was discovered for use as a superconducting material. The German scientist Osann invented powder metallurgy of copper in 1830 while determining the metal's atomic weight. Around then it was also discovered that the amount and type of alloying element (e.g. tin) would affect the tones of bells, allowing for a variety of rich sounds, leading to bell casting, another common use for copper and its alloys.
Flash smelting, which is still used today, was developed in Europe in order to make the smelting process more energy efficient. In 1908, in Outokumpu, Finland, a large deposit of copper ore was discovered, which eventually led to the development of flash smelting.
Copper has been pivotal in the economic and sociological worlds, notably disputes involving copper mines. The 1906 Cananea Strike in Mexico dealt with issues of work organization. The Teniente copper mine (1904-1951) raised political issues about capitalism and class structure. Japan's largest copper mine, the Ashio mine, was the site of a riot in 1907. The Arizona miners' strike of 1938 dealt with American labor issues including the "right to strike".
Copper is a reddish-colored metal; it has its characteristic color because of its band structure. In its liquefied state, a pure copper surface without ambient light appears somewhat greenish, a characteristic shared with gold. When liquid copper is in bright ambient light, it retains some of its pinkish luster.
Copper occupies the same family of the periodic table as silver and gold, since they each have one s-orbital electron on top of a filled electron shell. This similarity in electron structure makes them similar in many characteristics. All have very high thermal and electrical conductivity, and all are malleable metals. Among pure metals at room temperature, copper has the second highest electrical and thermal conductivity, after silver.
Copper can be found as native copper in mineral form, for example, in Michigan's Keewenaw Peninsula). Minerals such as the sulfides: chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), bornite (Cu5FeS4), covellite (CuS), chalcocite (Cu2S) are sources of copper, as are the carbonates: azurite (Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2) and malachite (Cu2CO3(OH)2) and the oxide: cuprite (Cu2O).
A single crystal copper consists of a few micrometres of small crystals. In this form of crystal (c), the yield stress is high and crystal undergoes a large amount of elastic deformation before going into the plastic deformation region. The plastic deformation region has an unpredictable outcome. The stress level decreases significantly as necking begins to occur.
Polycrystal copper has many crystal of different geometries combined. The plastic deformation of polycrystal is similar to mild steel. Copper has a high ductility and will continue to elongate as stress is applied. It is very useful in copper wire drawing.
Numerous copper alloys exist, many with important historical and contemporary uses. Speculum metal and bronze are alloys of copper and tin. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Monel metal, also called cupronickel, is an alloy of copper and nickel. While the metal "bronze" usually refers to copper-tin alloys, it also is a generic term for any alloy of copper, such as aluminium bronze, silicon bronze, and manganese bronze.
At 60 Mmhos/m copper has the second highest electrical conductivity of any element after silver. This high value is due to virtually all the valence electrons (one per atom) taking part in conduction. The resulting free electrons in the copper amounting to a huge charge density of 13.6x109 C/m3. This high charge density is responsible for the rather slow drift velocity of currents in copper cable (drift velocity may be calculated as the ratio of current density to charge density). For instance, at a current density of 5x106 A/m2 (typically, the maximum current density present in household wiring and grid distribution) the drift velocity is just a little over ⅓ mm/s.
It is important to note that in contrast to the oxidation of iron by wet air that the layer formed by the reaction of air with copper has a protective effect against further corrosion. On old copper roofs a green layer of copper carbonate, called verdigris, can often be seen. Another notable example of this is on the Statue of Liberty.
In contact with other metals Copper should not be in only mechanical contact with metals of different electropotential (for example, a copper pipe joined to an iron pipe), especially in the presence of moisture, as the completion of an electrical circuit (as through the common earth ground) will cause the juncture to act as an electrochemical cell (as is a single cell of a battery). The weak electrical currents themseves are harmless but the electrochemical reaction will cause the conversion of the iron to other compounds, eventually destroying the functionality of the union. This problem is usually solved in plumbing by separating copper pipe from iron pipe with some non-conducting segment (usually plastic or rubber).
Note that the copper sulfide area of the plot is very complex due to the existence of many different sulfides, a close up is also provided to make the graph more clear. It is clear that the copper is now able to corrode even without the need for oxygen as the copper is now less noble than hydrogen. This can be observed in every day life when copper metal surfaces tarnish after exposure to air which contains sulfur compounds.
Copper does react with oxygen-containing ammonia solutions because the ammonia forms water-soluble copper complexes. The formation of these complexes causes the corrosion to become more thermodynamically favored than the corrosion of copper in an identical solution that does not contain the ammonia.
Copper does react with a combination of oxygen and hydrochloric acid to form a series of copper chlorides. It is interesting to note that if copper(II) chloride (green/blue) is boiled with copper metal (with little or no oxygen present) then white copper(I) chloride will be formed.
The other 27 isotopes are radioactive and do not occur naturally. The most stable of these is 67Cu with a half-life of 61.83 hours. The least stable is 54Cu with a half-life of approximately 75 ns. Unstable copper isotopes with atomic masses below 63 tend to undergo β+ decay, while isotopes with atomic masses above 65 tend to undergo β− decay. 64Cu decays by both β+ and β−.
68Cu, 69Cu, 71Cu, 72Cu, and 76Cu each have one metastable isomer. 70Cu has two isomers, making a total of 7 distinct isomers. The most stable of these is 68mCu with a half-life of 3.75 minutes. The least stable is 69mCu with a half-life of 360 ns.
Most copper ore is mined or extracted as copper sulfides from large open pit mines in porphyry copper deposits that contain 0.4 to 1.0 percent copper. Examples include: Chuquicamata in Chile and El Chino Mine in New Mexico. The average abundance of copper found within crustal rocks is approximately 68 ppm by mass, and 22 ppm by atoms.
The Intergovernmental Council of Copper Exporting Countries (CIPEC), defunct since 1992, once tried to play a similar role for copper as OPEC does for oil, but never achieved the same influence, not least because the second-largest producer, the United States, was never a member. Formed in 1967, its principal members were Chile, Peru, Zaire, and Zambia.
The copper price has quintupled from the 60-year low in 1999, rising from US$0.60 per pound (US$1.32/kg) in June 1999 to US$3.75 per pound (US$8.27/kg) in May 2006, where it dropped to US$2.40 (US$5.29/kg) in February 2007 then rebounded to US$3.50 (US$7.71/kg = £3.89 = €5.00) in April 2007.
The Earth has an estimated 61 years of copper reserves remaining. Environmental analyst, Lester Brown, however, has suggested copper might run out within 25 years based on a reasonable extrapolation of 2% growth per year.
Copper has been in use at least 10,000 years, but more than 95 percent of all copper ever mined and smelted has been extracted since 1900. And as India and China race to catch up with the West, copper supplies are getting tight. Copper is among the most important industrial metals. Like fossil fuels, copper is a finite resource. Peak copper is the point in time at which the maximum global copper production rate is reached, according to Hubbert peak theory, the rate of production enters its terminal decline.
The purity of copper is expressed as 4N for 99.99% pure or 7N for 99.99999% pure. The numeral gives the number of nines after the decimal point when expressed as a decimal (e.g. 4N means 0.9999, or 99.99%). Copper is often too soft for its applications, so it is incorporated in numerous alloys. For example, brass is a copper-zinc alloy , and bronze is a copper-tin alloy.
It is used extensively, in products such as:
Copper(II) carbonate is green from which arises the unique appearance of copper-clad roofs or domes on some buildings. Copper(II) sulfate forms a blue crystalline pentahydrate which is perhaps the most familiar copper compound in the laboratory. It is used as a fungicide, known as Bordeaux mixture.
There are two stable copper oxides, copper(II) oxide (CuO) and copper(I) oxide (Cu2O). Copper oxides are used to make yttrium barium copper oxide (YBa2Cu3O7-δ) or YBCO which forms the basis of many unconventional superconductors.
The full equation shows that the reaction is due to hydroxide ions deprotonating the hexaaquacopper (II) complex:
Adding ammonium hydroxide (aqueous ammonia) causes the same precipitate to form. It then dissolves upon adding excess ammonia, to form a deep blue ammonia complex, tetraamminecopper(II).
A more delicate test than ammonia is potassium ferrocyanide, which gives a brown precipitate with copper salts.
Copper is essential in all plants and animals. Copper is carried mostly in the bloodstream on a plasma protein called ceruloplasmin. When copper is first absorbed in the gut it is transported to the liver bound to albumin. Copper is found in a variety of enzymes, including the copper centers of cytochrome c oxidase and the enzyme superoxide dismutase (containing copper and zinc). In addition to its enzymatic roles, copper is used for biological electron transport. The blue copper proteins that participate in electron transport include azurin and plastocyanin. The name "blue copper" comes from their intense blue color arising from a ligand-to-metal charge transfer (LMCT) absorption band around 600 nm.
Most molluscs and some arthropods such as the horseshoe crab use the copper-containing pigment hemocyanin rather than iron-containing hemoglobin for oxygen transport, so their blood is blue when oxygenated rather than red.
It is believed that zinc and copper compete for absorption in the digestive tract so that a diet that is excessive in one of these minerals may result in a deficiency in the other. The RDA for copper in normal healthy adults is 0.9 mg/day. On the other hand, professional research on the subject recommends 3.0 mg/day. Because of its role in facilitating iron uptake, copper deficiency can often produce anemia-like symptoms. In humans, the symptoms of Wilson's disease are caused by an accumulation of copper in body tissues.
Chronic copper depletion leads to abnormalities in metabolism of fats, high triglycerides, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fatty liver disease and poor melanin and dopamine synthesis causing depression and sunburn. Food rich in copper should be eaten away from any milk or egg proteins as they block absorption.
With an LD50 of 30 mg/kg in rats, "gram quantities" of copper sulfate are potentially lethal in humans. The suggested safe level of copper in drinking water for humans varies depending on the source, but tends to be pegged at 0.15 to 0.20 mg/L. The DRI Tolerable Upper Intake Level for adults of dietary copper from all sources is 10 mg/day. In toxicity, copper can inhibit the enzyme dihydrophil hydratase, an enzyme involved in haemopoiesis.
In cases of suspected copper poisoning, Ovalbumin is to be administered in either of its forms which can be most readily obtained, as milk or whites of eggs. Vinegar should not be given. The inflammatory symptoms are to be treated on general principles, and so are the nervous.
A significant portion of the toxicity of copper comes from its ability to accept and donate single electrons as it changes oxidation state. This catalyzes the production of very reactive radical ions such as hydroxyl radical in a manner similar to Fenton chemistry. This catalytic activity of copper is used by the enzymes that it is associated with and is thus only toxic when unsequestered and unmediated. This increase in unmediated reactive radicals is generally termed oxidative stress and is an active area of research in a variety of diseases where copper may play an important but more subtle role than in acute toxicity.
An inherited condition called Wilson's disease causes the body to retain copper, since it is not excreted by the liver into the bile. This disease, if untreated, can lead to brain and liver damage. In addition, studies have found that people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia had heightened levels of copper in their systems. However it is unknown at this stage whether the copper contributes to the mental illness, whether the body attempts to store more copper in response to the illness, or whether the high levels of copper are the result of the mental illness.
Too much copper in water has also been found to damage marine life. The observed effect of these higher concentrations on fish and other creatures is damage to gills, liver, kidneys, and the nervous system. It also interferes with the sense of smell in fish, thus preventing them from choosing good mates or finding their way to mating areas.