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Zinc: Uses in Everyday Life, Industry & Medicine

Instructor: Yolonda Sales

Yolonda has taught college Chemistry courses and has a Master's Degree in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership.

In this lesson, you will learn about the uses of zinc in everyday life, industry, and medicine. Some common uses of zinc compounds and zinc alloys are also discussed.

Zinc

You have to make a quick run to the local pharmacy to pick up a few things. You get a bottle of sunscreen, a tube of toothpaste, some cold lozenges, a bar of soap, a tube of diaper rash ointment, and a pack of batteries. You've been carrying around a bunch of pennies in your pocket, so you decide to use them to pay for some of the items. You finish paying for your items and leave the store. What is so interesting about this particular shopping trip? Every item that you bought contains zinc! Even some of the pennies used to pay for the items contain zinc!

Zinc is a very useful chemical element with many beneficial applications. This lesson describes some of the ways that zinc is used in everyday life, industry, and in medicine.

Defining Zinc

Zinc (symbol Zn) is a silver-white transition metal that resides in group 12 of the periodic table.

Industrial Zinc Uses

Zinc is most commonly used to galvanize other metals. Galvanizing is an industrial process in which metals such as iron or steel are covered with molten zinc in order to create a protective coating that prevents rusting. Automobile body parts and bridges are two common uses of galvanized steel.

Common Zinc Uses

Zinc alloys and zinc compounds have several common uses. Zinc alloys are made of combinations of zinc and other metals. Zinc compounds are formed when zinc combines with other elements and compounds. Brass is an example of a zinc alloy that is formed when zinc combines with copper. A wide array of items including pipe fittings, jewelry, and musical instruments such as tubas are made from brass. Two examples of zinc compounds are zinc oxide and zinc sulfide. Zinc oxide is used to make various products including make-up, rubber, and prescription drugs. Zinc sulfide can be found in x-ray equipment, fluorescent lighting products, and different kinds of paints.

Batteries

People have used zinc batteries for many years because zinc is an ideal energy source. There are several different types of zinc batteries including zinc-carbon, zinc-chloride, zinc-air batteries, and zinc-alkaline. Zinc-carbon and zinc-chloride batteries are often used for household items such as electronics, flashlights, and toys. Two main advantages of zinc-chloride batteries are that they last longer and have a more consistent voltage output than zinc-carbon batteries. Zinc-air batteries are often used to make button cell batteries. Button cell batteries power devices such as watches, hearing aids, and calculators. Zinc-alkaline batteries are versatile enough to be used in both light-drain and heavy-drain devices. Everyday household items such as radios and flashlights can be powered by zinc-alkaline batteries. The two main advantages that zinc-alkaline batteries have over other battery types is that they tend to resist leaking more, and they have longer shelf life. For these reasons, zinc-alkaline batteries are in increasing demand.


Zinc is commonly used to make different types of batteries.
batteries

Pennies

When you think of a penny does the image of a copper coin come to mind? If so, this may be because at one time all pennies were made out of pure copper. However, over the years the way that pennies were made changed in order to include different types of copper, zinc, nickel, steel, and tin alloys. Since 1982, pennies have been made out of zinc metal that is covered with a thin layer of copper.


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