Metallic chemical element, one of the transition elements, chemical symbol Cu, atomic number 29. Sometimes found in the free state in nature, it is a reddish metal, very ductile and an unusually good conductor of electricity and heat. Most of the world's copper production is used by the electrical industries; the remainder is combined with other metals (e.g., zinc, tin, nickel) to form alloys such as brass, bronze, nickel silver, and Monel. Copper is part of nearly all coinage metals. In compounds copper usually has valence 1 (cuprous) or 2 (cupric). Cuprous compounds include cuprous oxide, a red pigment and a fungicide; cuprous chloride, a catalyst for certain organic reactions; and cuprous sulfide, with a variety of uses. Cupric compounds include cupric oxide, a pigment, decolorizing agent, and catalyst; cupric chloride, a catalyst, wood preservative, mordant, disinfectant, feed additive, and pigment; and cupric sulfate, a pesticide, germicide, feed additive, and soil additive. Copper is a necessary trace element in the human diet and essential to plant growth; in blue-blooded mollusks and crustaceans it plays the same role in hemocyanin as iron does in hemoglobin.
Crystalline copper from Michigan—Courtesy of Ted Boente Collection; photograph, John H. Gerard
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