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What is a Metallic Bond? - Definition, Properties & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 1:00 An Analogy
  • 1:50 Metallic Bonding
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Ellen Ellis
The metallic bond is a type of chemical bond that occurs between atoms of metallic elements. It gives metals their unique properties that we don't see in nonmetal substances, as you'll learn in this lesson.

Definition

If you have already learned about covalent and ionic bonding, you know that these bonds occur between two atoms. When two atoms share electrons, they form a covalent bond. When one atom takes an electron away from another and the resulting positive and negative ions are attracted to each other, those atoms have formed an ionic bond.

A metallic bond is pretty different from covalent and ionic bonds, but the goal is the same: to achieve a lower energy state. Instead of a bond between just two atoms, a metallic bond is a sharing of electrons between many atoms of a metal element.

Take a look at your desk and see if you can find a small piece of metal like a paper clip or a staple. All of the atoms in that small piece of metal are sharing a big pool of valence electrons known as a sea of electrons or delocalized electrons. The big pool is like a free-for-all in that any valence electron can move to any atom within the material.

An Analogy

The metallic bond is not the easiest type of bond to understand, so an analogy might help. Imagine filling your bathtub with golf balls. Fill it right up to the top. The golf balls will arrange themselves in an orderly fashion as they fill the space in the tub. Do you see any spaces between the balls? If you turn on the faucet and plug the drain, the water will fill up those spaces. What you now have is something like metallic bonding. The golf balls are the metal atoms, and the water represents the valence electrons shared by all of the atoms.

Once the valence electrons detach from their original atomic owners and float around in the sea, the metal atoms become positive ions. The result is an orderly structure of positive metal atoms surrounded by a sea of negative electrons that hold the ions together like glue.

Metallic Bonding

Metals engage in a unique type of bonding that provides them with a unique set of properties. Unlike most other non-metallic substances, metals are malleable and ductile and good conductors of heat and electricity. Malleable means a substance can be shaped. Humans have been taking advantage of this quality for millennia to make jewelry, coins, weapons, and other related materials. Metals are also ductile, which means they can be stretched into thin wires, such as those used for electricity.

The ability to conduct heat means that energy in the form of heat moves easily through a metal. Think about this when you put a metal pan on the stove. If the handle is not insulated and you reach for it, you will get a quick and painful demonstration of how metal conducts heat. Metals also conduct electricity, which means that electrons can move freely through them.

If you think about our golf balls in the bathtub analogy, you can start to see why metals have these unique properties. Imagine pushing your hand into the tub. You push on the golf balls and because they are surrounded by water, they move in the direction you push them. This sea of electrons gives metals a sort of fluidity that allows us to shape and stretch them without breaking them into pieces.

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