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by SequinGirl
Last updated 5 years ago

Chemical Elements

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Cinnabar (Mercury Sulfide ore)

Top: Pure MercuryBottom: Bulb of a mercury thermometer

QUICK FACTSChemical Symbol: HgAtomic Number: 80Liquid at room temp.Melting Point: -38.8°CBoiling Point: 356.7°CTransition MetalAlso called Quicksilver or Hydrargyrum



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Mercury is not usually found free in nature, so it must be extracted, usually from cinnabar, which is an ore with the chemical structure HgS (Mercury Sulfide).The mercury can be removed from the sulfur in a few different ways, but usually it is crushed and heated in air: the mercury is released as a vapour before the other elements contained in the ore due to its lower boiling point, and can then be collected in a condenser. The formula for this reaction is:HgS + O2 → Hg + SO2

For a metal, mercury has a lot of very peculiar properties. It is liquid at room temperature (the only metal not to be a solid), and is a poor conductor of heat and electricity. This is because, while it contains free electrons like most metals, the electrons in the sixth shell are very attracted to the nucleus, and therefore will not share easily. This means that mercury effectively lacks the 'sea' of electrons that most other metals have, making the bond between its ions much weaker - the weaker bonds take much less energy to break, so mercury is already liquid by the time we reach room temperature.Mercury being a poor conductor of electricity also has to do with this, as its electrons are not able to carry the electricity through the material as quickly or easily.

Throughout history, mankind has been fascinated by mercury, partly because it is the only metal liquid at room temperature, but also due to it being one of the few elements that reacts with gold: early alchemists often used it as a base metal for trying to create it. Egyptians used cinnabar in their make-up, and the ancient Chinese believed quicksilver had remarkable healing properties.They couldn't have been more wrong.Mercury, particularly mercury vapour, was discovered to be highly toxic in the 1920s - long periods of exposure are very dangerous. This lead to mercury thermometers (made due to mercury's high thermal expansion) being phased out, but it is still used in barometers (due to high density) and florescent lights.Mercury is also used to pan for gold, as it is added to water in gold streams and then boiled off, leaving small amounts of pure gold behind. However, the mercury is almost never collected and reused, so it is released into the atmosphere, endangering fish and the humans who eat them.





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