Alkaline Earth Metals: Definition, Properties & Characteristics

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  • 0:01 What Are Alkaline…
  • 0:34 Properties & Characteristics
  • 1:12 Reactions
  • 2:04 Alkaline Earth Metals…
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth (Nikki) Wyman

Nikki has a master's degree in teaching chemistry and has taught high school chemistry, biology and astronomy.

Column 2A of the periodic table is home to the reactive alkaline earth metals. We find these elements in fireworks, vitamins, and even running through our own veins. Learn some properties and characteristics of this group of elements, and then take a quiz.

What are Alkaline Earth Metals?

The alkaline earth metals are all of the elements in the second column (column 2A) of the periodic table. This group includes beryllium (Be), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), strontium (Sr), barium (Ba) and radium (Ra). Alkaline earth metals have only two electrons in their outermost electron layer.

Alkaline earth metals get the name 'alkaline' because of the basic nature of the compounds they form when bonded with oxygen.

Properties and Characteristics

Alkaline earth metals in their pure forms are generally shiny and silvery. They rarely occur in their pure form, however, because they are very reactive. Alkaline earth metals have two electrons in their outermost electron layer, which take relatively little energy to remove. The energy it takes to remove an electron from an element is called the ionization energy. Alkaline earth metals have relatively low ionization energies for their first two electrons; because of this, alkaline earth metals exist with a 2+ charge most of the time. It is most common to find them in ionic compounds or as ions.


The more reactive metals in the series, calcium, barium and strontium, react vigorously with water at room temperature. Magnesium will react with water too, but only if it's boiling.

As mentioned earlier, alkaline earth metals get the name 'alkaline' from the basic nature of the compounds they form when bonded with oxygen. When alkaline earth metal oxides are placed in water, the resulting product is basic.

Alkaline earth metals react with nonmetals to form ionic compounds. In these types of reactions, the alkaline earth metal gives up its outermost electrons to a nonmetal that is greedy for electrons. Reactions that involve electron exchange are called oxidation-reduction or redox reactions. The following is an example of magnesium reacting with oxygen to produce magnesium oxide.

Formation of magnesium oxide

Alkaline Earth Metals in Action

Like their very reactive neighbors in column 1A (the alkali metals), the alkaline earth metals don't often occur in their pure, unionized form. Calcium and magnesium ions are an important component of human nutrition; calcium ions are necessary for healthy bones and teeth and magnesium ions are necessary for metabolism and muscle function.

Strontium, barium, and magnesium are key ingredients for a colorful and intense firework show. The bright reds come from strontium salts and the greens come from barium. Magnesium burns an intensely bright white.

Many naturally occurring compounds are made in part of alkaline earth metals. Peridot gems, recognizable as the birthstone for the month of August, contain magnesium. Beryllium makes up an important part of emeralds.

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