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Metallic chemical element, chemical symbol Al, atomic number 13. A lightweight, silvery white metal, it is so reactive chemically that it always occurs in compounds. It is the most abundant metallic element in Earth's crust, chiefly in bauxite (its principal ore), feldspars, micas, clay minerals, and laterite. It also occurs in gemstones, such as topaz, garnet, and chrysoberyl; emery, corundum, ruby, and sapphire are crystalline aluminum oxide. Aluminum was first isolated in 1825, became commercially available in the late 19th century, and is now the most widely used metal after iron. Its surface oxidizes at once to a hard, tough film, deterring further corrosion. Uses include building and construction, corrosion-resistant chemical equipment, auto and aircraft parts, power transmission lines, photoengraving plates, cookware and other consumer goods, and tubes for ointments and pastes. Important compounds include alums; alumina (aluminum oxide), useful as corundum and as a carrier for many catalysts; aluminum chloride, a widely used catalyst for organic syntheses; and aluminum hydroxide, used to waterproof fabrics.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on aluminum, visit Britannica.com.