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What is aluminum?

2018-08-09
What is aluminum?

Aluminum: It's not just found in the refrigerator wrapped around week-old leftovers. This element is the second-most abundant metallic element in Earth's crust after silicon. It's used in soda cans and other packaging, in aircraft and automobiles, and even in that snazzy iPhone 6.

 
Aluminum's sheer bulk — some 8 percent of the Earth's crust by weight, according to the University of Wisconsin — makes it easy to take this metal for granted. But aluminum is lightweight (a third the weight of steel or copper, according to the U.S. Geological Survey) and easy to mold, fold and recycle. It resists corrosion and stands up to repeated use.
 
The funny thing about aluminum is that it shouldn't be so useful at all. The metal actually oxidizes, or loses electrons, easily, the same type of reaction that causes iron to rust. However, unlike flakey iron oxide, the product of this reaction, aluminum oxide, sticks to the original metal, shielding it from further decay, according to the University of Wisconsin.
 
Atomic Number (number of protons in the nucleus): 13
Atomic Symbol (on the Periodic Table of Elements): Al
Atomic Weight (average mass of the atom): 26.9815386
Density:  2.70 grams per cubic centimeter
Phase at Room Temperature: Solid
Melting Point: 1,220.58 degrees Fahrenheit (660.32 degrees Celsius)
Boiling Point: 4,566 degrees F (2,519 degrees C)
Number of isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 22, one stable
Most common isotopes: Al-27 (stable) and Al-26 (radioactive; half-life 730,000 years)
 
Aluminum forms in stars in a fusion reaction in which magnesium picks up an extra proton, according to Chemicool, a chemistry website created by David D. Hsu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It isn't found in pure form in nature, however; in the Earth's crust, aluminum occurs most frequently as a compound called alum (potassium aluminum sulfate).