Malleability in Chemistry: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What Is Malleability?
  • 2:07 Malleability in Everyday Life
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nathan Crawford

Nathan, a PhD chemist, has taught chemistry and physical science courses.

This lesson defines malleability and the origin of this physical property. The lesson provides examples of how malleability of metals can be observed in everyday life.

What Is Malleability?

The metal titanium is so hard that it shatters when struck by a heavy blow at room temperature, but metals like aluminum dent and deform under much lighter blows instead of shattering. Have you ever wondered why this behavior occurs? What does this behavior tell you about the fundamental properties of metals?

The reason metals bend or dent when struck is linked to malleability, a physical property that is very important to chemists as well as engineers. Malleability is the ability of a substance, usually a metal, to be deformed or molded into a different shape. For chemists, the malleability of the metal gives an important means of describing the specific characteristics of a metal and relating it to the arrangement of the atoms within the metal. This property in engineering applications allows for the manufacture of a wide variety of products, from pots and pans to coins for currency.

Malleability in metals occurs because of the metallic bonds that keep the atoms in place. Metallic bonds, characterized by a 'sea' of electrons that easily move from atom to another, allow the metal atoms to slide past each other if a force is applied. The force can come from a blow from a hammer, the impact from a fall, high pressure from being squeezed, or from a collision.

The degree of malleability varies widely among metals as well as mixtures of different metals, also known as alloys. Multiple factors can affect the malleability of a metal or alloy, but two fundamentally important factors are the strength of the metallic bond and the temperature.

The nature of the metallic bond can profoundly influence the ability of metal atoms to rearrange themselves. Stronger metallic bonds mean that greater energy is required to move the metal atoms into different alignments. Weaker metallic bonds mean the metal atoms require less energy to shift positions and, consequently, the metal is much more malleable.

The temperature of the metal is another important factor that affects malleability. For example, steel at room temperature is not very malleable at all. When heated to higher temperatures, say when a blacksmith is making a horseshoe, the steel becomes much more malleable and can be beaten with a hammer to form the horseshoe.

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