Aluminum: Definition, Properties & Uses

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  • 0:03 What Is Aluminum?
  • 1:26 Properties of Aluminum
  • 2:17 Uses of Aluminum
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sara McCubbins

Sara has a background in chemistry education and is currently writing her dissertation in the field of curriculum and instruction.

Whether you are drinking a can of soda or wrapping up leftover food, you often encounter aluminum in your everyday life. Aluminum can exhibit many different properties and has many uses. In this lesson, we will discuss the definition, properties, and uses of aluminum.

What Is Aluminum?

Imagine if there were a superhero of metals. The metal would need to be plentiful, inexpensive, have the ability to change shape easily, be lightweight but strong, and be resistant to heat and corrosion. Well, such a metal exists, and it is something you likely encounter on a daily basis. This metal, aluminum, has many unique properties and uses that separate it from other metals, which we will explore now.

In chemistry, aluminum can be found on the Periodic Table with an atomic number of 13. It naturally occurs as a silvery white, lightweight metal, and has an atomic mass of 26.98 amu.

In its natural state, aluminum is very rarely found on its own because it reacts with oxygen and other components of the earth's atmosphere. So, while it makes up 8% of the earth's outer crust, it exists mostly as an ore form known as bauxite (67% aluminum oxide and 33% water). Although aluminum itself is a relatively cheap metal (think of how easy it is to buy aluminum foil or a can of soda), getting bauxite into the pure form of aluminum is a somewhat difficult and expensive process. As a result, it is important to recycle aluminum materials, such as cans, kitchen utensils, and other products, because the process of melting down those materials is quicker, cheaper, and easier than it is to extract aluminum from bauxite.

Properties of Aluminum

One of the most well-known properties of aluminum is the fact that it is a very lightweight metal, though it still retains its strength when combined with other metals, creating what is known as an alloy. It is also malleable, meaning that it can be easily shaped or formed using pressure or force. This property is part of what gives aluminum its many uses, such as the ability to be shaped into soda cans or foil. Other properties include the fact that aluminum is non-toxic, a great conductor, and is resistant to heat and corrosion.

Perhaps one of the more interesting and useful properties of aluminum is its ability to react with oxygen slowly in a moist air environment, which allows it to form a thin coat of aluminum oxide covering the aluminum. This is an important property because it prevents the aluminum from further corrosion, or rusting. This is why aluminum is often used on house siding or outdoor furniture.

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