AskDefine | Define cuprous

Dictionary Definition

cuprous adj : of or containing divalent copper [syn: cupric]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of or of the nature of copper.
  2. Containing copper with an oxidation number of 1


  • (of or of the nature of copper): cupreous

Related terms

See also

Extensive Definition

Copper () is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (lang-la cuprum) and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with excellent electrical conductivity and is rather soft in its pure state and has a pinkish luster which is (beside gold) unusual for metals which are normally silvery white. It finds extensive use as an electrical conductor, heat conductor, as a building material, and as a component of various alloys.
Copper is an essential trace nutrient to all high plants and animals. In animals, including humans, it is found primarily in the bloodstream, as a co-factor in various enzymes, and in copper-based pigments. However, in sufficient amounts, copper can be poisonous and even fatal to organisms.
Copper has played a significant part in the history of humankind, which has used the easily accessible uncompounded metal for thousands of years. Several early civilizations have early evidence of using copper. During the Roman Empire, copper was principally mined on Cyprus, hence the origin of the name of the metal as Cyprium, "metal of Cyprus", later shortened to Cuprum.
A number of countries, such as Chile and the United States, still have sizable reserves of the metal which are extracted through large open pit mines, however like tin there may be insufficient reserves to sustain current rates of consumption. High demand relative to supply has caused a price spike in the 2000s.
Copper also has a significant presence as a decorative metal art. It can also be used as an anti-germ surface that can add to the anti-bacterial and antimicrobial features of buildings such as hospitals.


Copper, as native copper, is one of the few metals to naturally occur as an uncompounded mineral. Copper was known to some of the oldest civilizations on record, and has a history of use that is at least 10,000 years old. No one knows exactly when copper was first discovered, but earliest estimates place this event around 9000 BCE. A copper pendant was found in what is now northern Iraq that dates to 8700 BCE. By 5000 BCE, there are signs of copper smelting: the refining of copper from simple copper compounds such as malachite or azurite. Among archaeological sites in Anatolia, Çatal Höyük (~6000 BCE) features native copper artifacts and smelted lead beads, but no smelted copper. But Can Hasan (~5000 BCE) had access to smelted copper; this site has yielded the oldest known cast copper artifact, a copper mace head.
In Greek the metal was known by the name chalkos (χαλκός). Copper was a very important resource for the Romans, Greeks and other ancient peoples. In Roman times, it became known as aes Cyprium (aes being the generic Latin term for copper alloys such as bronze and other metals, and Cyprium because so much of it was mined in Cyprus). From this, the phrase was simplified to cuprum and then eventually Anglicized into the English copper. Copper was associated with the goddess Aphrodite/Venus in mythology and alchemy, owing to its lustrous beauty, its ancient use in producing mirrors, and its association with Cyprus, which was sacred to the goddess.

British Isles

During the Bronze Age, copper was mined in the British Isles mainly in the following locations: At Great Orme in North Wales, such working extended for a depth of 70 metres. At Alderley Edge in Cheshire, carbon dates have established mining at around 2280 to 1890 BCE (at 95% probability).

United States

Copper mining in the United States began with marginal workings by Native Americans. Native copper is known to have been extracted from sites on Isle Royale with primitive stone tools between 800 and 1600. Europeans mined copper in Connecticut as early as 1709. Perhaps the oldest large-scale copper mine in the US was the historic Elizabeth Mine in Vermont. Dating to the 1700s, "the Liz" produced copper until it was closed in 1958. Spanish began mining copper at Santa Rita, New Mexico about 1800. Westward movement also brought an expansion of copper exploitation with development of significant deposits in Michigan during the 1850s and then in Arizona and Montana during the 1870s.
Native copper was mined extensively in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula with the heart of extraction at the productive Calumet and Hecla Mining Company mines. Arizona had many notable deposits including the Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee and the United Verde in Jerome. The Anaconda in Butte, Montana became the nation's chief copper supplier in 1892, a title it held for more than a decade.
Copper is mined in many other areas of the United States, including Utah, Nevada and (formerly) in Tennessee. (See Copper mining in the United States) Copper is the state mineral for Utah.


There are two stable isotopes, 63Cu and 65Cu, along with a couple dozen radioisotopes. The vast majority of radioisotopes have half lives on the order of minutes or less; the longest lived, 67Cu, has a half life of 61.8 hours. See also isotopes of copper.

Notable characteristics

Copper is a reddish-colored metal; it has its characteristic color because of its band structure. In its liquefied state, a pure copper surface without ambient light appears somewhat greenish, a characteristic shared with gold. When liquid copper is in bright ambient light, it retains some of its pinkish luster.
Copper occupies the same family of the periodic table as silver and gold, since they each have one s-orbital electron on top of a filled electron shell. This similarity in electron structure makes them similar in many characteristics. All have very high thermal and electrical conductivity, and all are malleable metals.


Copper has a high electrical and thermal conductivity, second only to silver among pure metals at room temperature.


Pure water and air Copper is a metal that does not react with water (H2O), but the oxygen of the air will react slowly at room temperature to form a layer of brown-black copper oxide on copper metal.
It is important to note that in contrast to the oxidation of iron by wet air that the layer formed by the reaction of air with copper has a protective effect against further corrosion. On old copper roofs a green layer of copper carbonate, called verdigris or patina, can often be seen. Another notable example of this is on the Statue of Liberty.
In contact with other metals Copper should not be in only mechanical contact with metals of different electropotential (for example, a copper pipe joined to an iron pipe), especially in the presence of moisture, as the completion of an electrical circuit (as through the common earth ground) will cause the juncture to act as an electrochemical cell (as is a single cell of a battery). The weak electrical currents themseves are harmless but the electrochemical reaction will cause the conversion of the iron to other compounds, eventually destroying the functionality of the union. This problem is usually solved in plumbing by separating copper pipe from iron pipe with some non-conducting segment (usually plastic or rubber).
Sulfide media
Copper metal does react with hydrogen sulfide- and sulfide-containing solutions. A series of different copper sulfides can form on the surface of the copper metal.
Note that the copper sulfide area of the plot is very complex due to the existence of many different sulfides, a close up is also provided to make the graph more clear. It is clear that the copper is now able to corrode even without the need for oxygen as the copper is now less noble than hydrogen. This can be observed in every day life when copper metal surfaces tarnish after exposure to air which contains sulfur compounds.
Ammonia media
Copper does react with oxygen-containing ammonia solutions because the ammonia forms water-soluble copper complexes. The formation of these complexes causes the corrosion to become more thermodynamically favored than the corrosion of copper in an identical solution that does not contain the ammonia.
Chloride media
Copper does react with a combination of oxygen and hydrochloric acid to form a series of copper chlorides. It is interesting to note that if copper(II) chloride (green/blue) is boiled with copper metal (with little or no oxygen present) then white copper(I) chloride will be formed.

Mechanical properties

A single crystal copper consists of a few micrometres of small crystals. In this form of crystal (c), the yield stress is high and crystal undergoes a large amount of elastic deformation before going into the plastic deformation region. The plastic deformation region has an unpredictable outcome. The stress level decreases significantly as necking begins to occur.
Polycrystal copper has many crystal of different geometries combined. The plastic deformation of polycrystal is similar to mild steel. Copper has a high ductility and will continue to elongate as stress is applied. It is very useful in copper wire drawing.
Numerous copper alloys exist, many with important historical and contemporary uses. Speculum metal and bronze are alloys of copper and tin. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Monel metal, also called cupronickel, is an alloy of copper and nickel. While the metal "bronze" usually refers to copper-tin alloys, it also is a generic term for any alloy of copper, such as aluminium bronze, silicon bronze, and manganese bronze.

Germicidal effect

Copper is germicidal, via the oligodynamic effect. For example, brass doorknobs disinfect themselves of many bacteria within a period of eight hours. Antimicrobial properties of copper are effective against MRSA, Escherichia coli and other pathogens. In colder temperature, longer time is required to kill bacteria.

Occurrence and modern industry

see Peak copper The Bingham Canyon Mine, in the Salt Lake Valley, Utah, is the worlds largest open pit mine. It is one of only two man made stuctures visable from space, after the Great Wall Of China. It is owned by Kennecott Mining Company, and is primarily used for the mining of copper. In 2005, Chile was the top mine producer of copper with at least one-third world share followed by the USA, Indonesia and Peru, reports the British Geological Survey.
Copper can be found as native copper in mineral form. Minerals such as the sulfides: chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), bornite (Cu5FeS4), covellite (CuS), chalcocite (Cu2S) are sources of copper, as are the carbonates: azurite (Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2) and malachite (Cu2CO3(OH)2) and the oxide: cuprite (Cu2O).
Most copper ore is mined or extracted as copper sulfides from large open pit mines in porphyry copper deposits that contain 0.4 to 1.0 percent copper. Examples include: Chuquicamata in Chile and El Chino Mine in New Mexico. The average abundance of copper found within crustal rocks is approximately 68 ppm by mass, and 22 ppm by atoms.
The Intergovernmental Council of Copper Exporting Countries (CIPEC), defunct since 1992, once tried to play a similar role for copper as OPEC does for oil, but never achieved the same influence, not least because the second-largest producer, the United States, was never a member. Formed in 1967, its principal members were Chile, Peru, Zaire, and Zambia.
The copper price has quintupled from the 60-year low in 1999, rising from US$0.60 per pound (US$1.32/kg) in June 1999 to US$3.75 per pound (US$8.27/kg) in May 2006, where it dropped to US$2.40 (US$5.29/kg) in February 2007 then rebounded to US$3.50 (US$7.71/kg = £3.89 = 5.00) in April 2007.
The Earth has an estimated 61 years of copper reserves remaining. Environmental analyst, Lester Brown, however, has suggested copper might run out within 25 years based on a reasonable extrapolation of 2% growth per year.
Copper has been in use at least 10,000 years, but more than 95 percent of all copper ever mined and smelted has been extracted since 1900. And as India and China race to catch up with the West, copper supplies are getting tight. Copper is among the most important industrial metals. Like fossil fuels, copper is a finite resource. Peak copper is the point in time at which the maximum global copper production rate is reached, according to Hubbert peak theory, the rate of production enters its terminal decline.


Common oxidation states of copper include the less stable copper(I) state, Cu+; and the more stable copper(II) state, Cu2+, which forms blue or blue-green salts and solutions. Under unusual conditions, a 3+ state and even an extremely rare 4+ state can be obtained. Using old nomenclature for the naming of salts, copper(I) is called cuprous, and copper(II) is cupric. In oxidation copper is mildly basic.
Copper(II) carbonate is green from which arises the unique appearance of copper-clad roofs or domes on some buildings. Copper(II) sulfate forms a blue crystalline pentahydrate which is perhaps the most familiar copper compound in the laboratory. It is used as a fungicide, known as Bordeaux mixture.
There are two stable copper oxides, copper(II) oxide (CuO) and copper(I) oxide (Cu2O). Copper oxides are used to make yttrium barium copper oxide (YBa2Cu3O7-δ) or YBCO which forms the basis of many unconventional superconductors.

Tests for copper(II) ion

Add aqueous sodium hydroxide. A blue precipitate of copper(II) hydroxide should form.
Ionic equation:
Cu2+(aq) + 2OH−(aq) → Cu(OH)2(s)
The full equation shows that the reaction is due to hydroxide ions deprotonating the hexaaquacopper (II) complex:
[Cu(H2O)6]2+(aq) + 2 OH−(aq) → Cu(H2O)4(OH)2(s) + 2 H2O (l)
Adding ammonium hydroxide (aqueous ammonia) causes the same precipitate to form. It then dissolves upon adding excess ammonia, to form a deep blue ammonia complex, tetraamminecopper(II).
Ionic equation:
Cu(H2O)4(OH)2(s) + 4 NH3(aq) → [Cu(H2O)2(NH3)4]2+(aq) + 2H2O(l) + 2 OH−(aq)
A more delicate test than ammonia is potassium ferrocyanide, which gives a brown precipitate with copper salts.


Copper is malleable and ductile, a good conductor of heat and, when very pure, a good conductor of electricity.
The purity of copper is expressed as 4N for 99.99% pure or 7N for 99.99999% pure. The numeral gives the number of nines after the decimal point when expressed as a decimal (e.g. 4N means 0.9999, or 99.99%).
It is used extensively, in products such as:



Architecture / Industry

Household products


  • As a component of coins, often as cupronickel alloy.
  • Coins in the following countries all contain copper: European Union (Euro), United States, United Kingdom (sterling), Australia and New Zealand.
  • U.S. Nickels are 75.0% copper by weight and only 25.0% nickel.
  • Small arms ammunition commonly uses copper as a jacketing material around the bullet core. Copper is also commonly used as a case material, in the form of brass.

Biological role

Copper is essential in all plants and animals. Copper is carried mostly in the bloodstream on a plasma protein called ceruloplasmin. When copper is first absorbed in the gut it is transported to the liver bound to albumin. Copper is found in a variety of enzymes, including the copper centers of cytochrome c oxidase and the enzyme superoxide dismutase (containing copper and zinc). In addition to its enzymatic roles, copper is used for biological electron transport. The blue copper proteins that participate in electron transport include azurin and plastocyanin. The name "blue copper" comes from their intense blue color arising from a ligand-to-metal charge transfer (LMCT) absorption band around 600 nm.
Most molluscs and some arthropods such as the horseshoe crab use the copper-containing pigment hemocyanin rather than iron-containing hemoglobin for oxygen transport, so their blood is blue when oxygenated rather than red.
It is believed that zinc and copper compete for absorption in the digestive tract so that a diet that is excessive in one of these minerals may result in a deficiency in the other. The RDA for copper in normal healthy adults is 0.9 mg/day. On the other hand, professional research on the subject recommends 3.0 mg/day. Because of its role in facilitating iron uptake, copper deficiency can often produce anemia-like symptoms. In humans, the symptoms of Wilson's disease are caused by an accumulation of copper in body tissues.
Chronic copper depletion leads to abnormalities in metabolism of fats, high triglycerides, non-alkoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fatty liver disease and poor melanin and dopamine sythesis causing depression and sun-burns. Food rich in copper should be eaten away from any milk or egg proteins as they block absorption.


With an LD50 of 30 mg/kg in rats, "gram quantities" of copper sulfate are potentially lethal in humans. The suggested safe level of copper in drinking water for humans varies depending on the source, but tends to be pegged at 1.5 to 2 mg/L. The DRI Tolerable Upper Intake Level for adults of dietary copper from all sources is 10 mg/day. In toxicity, copper can inhibit the enzyme dihydrophil hydratase, an enzyme involved in haemopoiesis.
Symptoms of copper poisoning are very similar to those produced by arsenic. Fatal cases are generally terminated by convulsions, palsy, and insensibility.
In cases of suspected copper poisoning, Ovalbumin is to be administered in either of its forms which can be most readily obtained, as milk or whites of eggs. Vinegar should not be given. The inflammatory symptoms are to be treated on general principles, and so are the nervous.
A significant portion of the toxicity of copper comes from its ability to accept and donate single electrons as it changes oxidation state. This catalyzes the production of very reactive radical ions such as hydroxyl radical in a manner similar to Fenton chemistry. This catalytic activity of copper is used by the enzymes that it is associated with and is thus only toxic when unsequestered and unmediated. This increase in unmediated reactive radicals is generally termed oxidative stress and is an active area of research in a variety of diseases where copper may play an important but more subtle role than in acute toxicity.
An inherited condition called Wilson's disease causes the body to retain copper, since it is not excreted by the liver into the bile. This disease, if untreated, can lead to brain and liver damage. In addition, studies have found that people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia had heightened levels of copper in their systems. However it is unknown at this stage whether the copper contributes to the mental illness, whether the body attempts to store more copper in response to the illness, or whether the high levels of copper are the result of the mental illness.
Too much copper in water has also been found to damage marine life. The observed effect of these higher concentrations on fish and other creatures is damage to gills, liver, kidneys, and the nervous system. It also interferes with the sense of smell in fish, thus preventing them from choosing good mates or finding their way to mating areas.

Miscellaneous hazards

The metal, when powdered, is a fire hazard. At concentrations higher than 1 mg/L, copper can stain clothes and items washed in water.

See also


Further reading

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry, Volume 12, Number 10, May 2005, pp. 1161-1208(48) Metals, Toxicity and Oxidative Stress
  • Materials Science and Engineering: an Introduction, 6th Ed.
  • Material: Copper (Cu), bulk, MEMS and Nanotechnology Clearinghouse.
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External links

cuprous in Afrikaans: Koper
cuprous in Arabic: نحاس
cuprous in Aymara: Anti
cuprous in Azerbaijani: Mis
cuprous in Bengali: তামা
cuprous in Min Nan: Cu (goân-sò͘)
cuprous in Belarusian: Медзь
cuprous in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Медзь
cuprous in Bosnian: Bakar
cuprous in Bulgarian: Мед (елемент)
cuprous in Catalan: Coure
cuprous in Chuvash: Пăхăр
cuprous in Czech: Měď
cuprous in Corsican: Ramu
cuprous in Welsh: Copr
cuprous in Danish: Kobber
cuprous in German: Kupfer
cuprous in Estonian: Vask
cuprous in Modern Greek (1453-): Χαλκός
cuprous in Spanish: Cobre
cuprous in Esperanto: Kupro
cuprous in Basque: Kobre
cuprous in Persian: مس
cuprous in French: Cuivre
cuprous in Friulian: Ram
cuprous in Irish: Copar
cuprous in Manx: Cobbyr
cuprous in Scottish Gaelic: Copar
cuprous in Galician: Cobre
cuprous in Gujarati: તાંબુ
cuprous in Korean: 구리
cuprous in Armenian: Պղինձ
cuprous in Hindi: ताम्र
cuprous in Croatian: Bakar (element)
cuprous in Ido: Kupro
cuprous in Indonesian: Tembaga
cuprous in Zulu: Umthofu
cuprous in Icelandic: Kopar
cuprous in Italian: Rame
cuprous in Hebrew: נחושת
cuprous in Georgian: სპილენძი
cuprous in Cornish: Kober
cuprous in Swahili (macrolanguage): Shaba
cuprous in Kongo: Mutako
cuprous in Haitian: Kuiv
cuprous in Kurdish: Mis
cuprous in Latin: Cuprum
cuprous in Latvian: Varš
cuprous in Luxembourgish: Koffer
cuprous in Lithuanian: Varis
cuprous in Limburgan: Koper
cuprous in Lojban: tunka
cuprous in Hungarian: Réz
cuprous in Macedonian: Бакар
cuprous in Malayalam: ചെമ്പ്
cuprous in Maori: Konukura
cuprous in Marathi: तांबे
cuprous in Malay (macrolanguage): Tembaga
cuprous in Mongolian: Зэс
nah:Chīltic tepoztli
cuprous in Dutch: Koper (element)
cuprous in Japanese: 銅
cuprous in Norwegian: Kobber
cuprous in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kopar
cuprous in Occitan (post 1500): Coire
cuprous in Uzbek: Mis
cuprous in Low German: Kopper (Metall)
cuprous in Polish: Miedź
cuprous in Portuguese: Cobre
cuprous in Kölsch: Koffer (Metall)
cuprous in Romanian: Cupru
cuprous in Quechua: Anta
cuprous in Russian: Медь
cuprous in Sanskrit: ताम्रम्
cuprous in Albanian: Bakri
cuprous in Sicilian: Rami
cuprous in Simple English: Copper
cuprous in Slovak: Meď
cuprous in Slovenian: Baker
cuprous in Serbian: Бакар
cuprous in Serbo-Croatian: Bakar
cuprous in Finnish: Kupari
cuprous in Swedish: Koppar
cuprous in Tagalog: Tanso
cuprous in Tamil: செப்பு
cuprous in Telugu: రాగి
cuprous in Thai: ทองแดง
cuprous in Vietnamese: Đồng (nguyên tố)
cuprous in Tajik: Мис
cuprous in Turkish: Bakır
cuprous in Ukrainian: Мідь
cuprous in Urdu: تانبا
cuprous in Yiddish: קופער
cuprous in Contenese: 銅
cuprous in Chinese: 铜
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