Silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of any metal. The metal is found in the Earth’s crust in the pure, free elemental form (“native silver”), as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.
Silver is a transition metal with properties similar to its group 11 neighbors, copper and gold. It has a unique electron configuration ([Kr]4d105s1) that contributes to its special characteristics. Silver is soft, ductile, and malleable with a face-centered cubic lattice structure. Unlike some metals, its bonds are relatively weak, resulting in low hardness and high ductility.
It has a brilliant white metallic luster and superior optical reflectivity in certain wavelengths. It boasts the highest electrical conductivity among metals and has very high thermal conductivity, though it is rarely used for these properties due to its high cost. During WWII, it was used in electromagnets for uranium enrichment due to copper shortages.
Silver easily forms alloys with copper, gold, and zinc, with its structure and electron concentration varying depending on the alloying element.
What makes Silver Valuable?
Silver is malleable and can be easily shaped into different forms without breaking or cracking. Silver is also a relatively dense metal, though less dense than gold, making it perfect for industrial applications. Lastly, silver is highly conductive, giving it many industrial uses, such as in electronics and electrical components.
Silver’s combination of physical properties, rarity, and perceived value makes it a sought-after precious metal with both industrial and monetary applications.
Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and commonly used in jewelry and tableware. Silver is the best reflector of visible light, making it ideal for mirrors, though it tarnishes over time. It has applications in dental work, soldering, electrical contacts, and batteries. Silver salts, like bromide and iodide, have been crucial in photography and continue to be relevant today. Silver also has antibacterial properties; its nanoparticles are used in clothing to prevent odors, and its threads allow for touchscreen use in gloves.
960.8 °C (1,861.4 °F)
2,212 °C (4,014 °F)
10.5 (20 °C [68 °F])
+1, +2, +3