Metals differ so widely in hardness, ductility (the potentiality of being drawn into wire), malleability, tensile strength, density, and melting point that a definite line of distinction between them and the nonmetals cannot be drawn. The hardest elemental metal is chromium; the softest, cesium. Copper, gold, platinum, and silver are especially ductile. Most metals are malleable; gold, silver, copper, tin, and aluminum are extremely so. Some metals exhibiting great tensile strength are copper, iron, and platinum. Three metals (lithium, potassium, and sodium) have densities of less than one gram per cubic centimeter at ordinary temperatures and are therefore lighter than water. Some heavy metals, beginning with the most dense, are osmium, iridium, platinum, gold, tungsten, uranium, tantalum, mercury, hafnium, lead, and silver.
For many industrial uses, the melting points of the metals are important. Tungsten fuses, or melts, only at extremely high temperatures (3,370°C.), while cesium has a melting point of 28.5°C. The best metallic conductor of electricity is silver. Copper, gold, and aluminum follow in the order named. All metals are relatively good conductors of heat; silver, copper, and aluminum are especially conductive. The radioactive metal uranium is used in reactor piles to generate steam and electric power. Plutonium, another radioactive element, is used in nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors as well as in pacemakers. Some of the radioactive metals not found in nature, e.g., fermium and seaborgium, are produced by nuclear bombardment.
Some elements, e.g., arsenic and antimony, exhibit both metallic and nonmetallic properties and are called metalloids. Furthermore, although all metals form crystals, this is also characteristic of certain nonmetals, e.g., carbon and sulfur.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.