Non-Ferrous Metals: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will not only teach you about the definition of non-ferrous metals, but give examples of specific metals use, origin, and fun facts about them.

Non-Ferrous Metals

Take a look at the periodic table for a second. Do you see a box with the atomic number 26 in the top left corner? What is it? It should say 'Fe'. 'Fe' as found in 'fe'rrous. Ferrous things contain iron because the metal 'iron' is represented by the symbol Fe.

Something non-ferrous is devoid of iron. Thus, a non-ferrous metal is a metal (or a mixture of two or more metals) that contains inconsequential amounts or no amount of iron. They are therefore nonmagnetic and don't rust like ferrous metals do.

This lesson will go over some of the more famous and important non-ferrous metals.

Aluminum, Copper, & Mercury

One such metal is surely one you've heard of: aluminum (Al). This metal was first isolated in Denmark by Hans Oersted in 1825. Its name comes from the Latin word for 'bitter salt' and its atomic number is 13.

This non-ferrous metal is used in aluminum cans, aluminum foil, beer kegs, and even airplane parts! What's most noticeable about this metal is how lightweight, soft, and malleable it is. It would be hard to use aluminum foil if it wasn't!

While aluminum was isolated pretty recently, the same can't be said for our next non-ferrous metal, copper (Cu), with an atomic number of 29. This metal was discovered way back in prehistoric times. Its name originally comes from the Latin for 'a metal from Cyprus', an island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Unlike the silvery color of aluminum, copper is reddish-gold that is pretty malleable as well. Copper has been used to make everything from coins to wires. Cool fact: copper is also an important element for our health, as it is involved in energy transfer processes within our body.

If you thought that was cool, wait for the next non-ferrous metal, mercury (Hg). This metal is a silver liquid at room temperature! Mercury's atomic number is 80, and was discovered somewhere around 1500 BC. It's named after the planet Mercury.

Mercury, the metal, is highly toxic and it's used very little anymore as a result. It was commonly used in older thermometers and batteries but is now mainly used as a catalyst in the chemical industry.

Interesting note: some people who illegally mine gold in the Amazon jungle, destroying a lot of the rainforest in the process, use mercury to help extract the gold. This not only poisons the water and air, but eventually kills the people using the mercury as well.

Mercury is a liquid metal at room temperature.

Gold, Silver, & Platinum

Speaking of gold, gold (Au) is a precious non-ferrous metal that we all know. Its atomic number is 79 and it was discovered about 5,000 years ago. Its name and symbol comes from the Latin 'aurum', meaning gold.

As you well know, gold has a very famous yellow color to it. Most of the gold that's mined is stored as gold bullion (in bars or ingots). However, some of it is used in coins and, of course, jewelry. An interesting fact about this metal is that China is the world's leader in the yearly extraction of this precious metal, mining about 16% of the world's yearly gold mine production.

An equally famous non-ferrous precious metal is silver (Ag), with an atomic number of 47. It was discovered roughly 5,000 years ago as well and its same comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'siolfur'.

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