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Metallic Bonding: The Electron-Sea Model & Why Metals Are Good Electrical Conductors

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  • 0:05 Electron Sea Model
  • 1:46 Properties of Metals
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Meyers

Amy holds a Master of Science. She has taught science at the high school and college levels.

Learn why metallic bonding is called the electron sea model. Discover why metals bond the way they do and why they are shiny, malleable and conduct electricity well.

Electron Sea Model

Metals make up most of the elements in the periodic table (around 80%), and they are special. When metals bond with themselves, they bond in a different way than when they bond with other elements. It isn't ionic or molecular or covalent. It is its own metal bond.

When metals are together, the electrons float around the atoms.
Metallic Bonds Electrons Float Around

Most metals have very few electrons in their outermost energy shells, and some have vacant outer electron orbitals. What this means for the metal is that its valence electrons are decentralized and free to move around. Remember that in ionic bonds, the electrons transfer from one atom to another atom. In covalent bonds, the electrons are shared between atoms. In metal bonds, the electrons wander around and aren't transferred or shared. It's more of a communal thing where they belong to all the metal atoms around them.

Metals form compact and orderly crystalline structures. They look like this:

Crystalline structure
metals form crystalline structures

When metals are next to each other, the valence electrons don't just stay on their own atom; they roam around the whole metal complex. They float free as though floating through a sea of electrons, much like an individual water molecule floats free in the sea. This is why it is called the electron sea model.

Each metal atom allows its electrons to roam freely, so these atoms become positively charged cations. These cations are kind of like a positively charged island and are surrounded by a sea of negatively charged electrons. It looks a bit like this:

Positively charged cations are surrounded by electrons
island electron sea

The attraction between the mobile electrons and positive centers is a metal bond.

Properties of Metals

The electron sea model explains many of the physical properties of metals. They are good electrical conductors because the electrons flow freely in them. They are malleable because of the drifting electrons and because the cations slide easily past each other. They reflect light because of the free electrons.

Electricity

Metal is malleable because its atoms can slide over each other without damaging its structure.
Metal Atoms Move Over Each Other

Electrons are also very malleable, which means they can be shaped or formed. Since metals form those nice crystalline structures and they are made up of all those positive centers and negative electrons, the bonding in them is the same in all directions. Metal atoms can move over each other without breaking or causing any harm to the crystalline structure. This is sort of like a bunch of ball bearings covered in oil. They can roll on past each other easily without damage.

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