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What Is Copper?

Copper is a transition metal found in its native state, released by the chemical reactions of its ores. The word copper is derived from the Latin word 'cuprum' meaning 'metal of Cyprus' because the Mediterranean island of Cyprus was an ancient source of mined copper. The element symbol Cu also comes from 'cuprum.' (Ref: Saul S. Hauben, The derivations of the names of the elements, J. Chem. Educ., 1933, 10 (4), p227.)

Copper was discovered over ten thousand years ago and was used to create beads, crucibles and primitive cookware. Even the Bible refers to copper.

Copper is also found in animal tissues, liver, muscle and bone, is an essential trace nutrient to both animal and higher plant life, and is an essential enzyme that helps the central nervous system. Copper deficiency can be found in those not following a balanced diet or who have abnormal glucose and cholesterol metabolism. It is prevalent among undernourished children in third-world countries as indicated by their bone abnormalities, impaired growth and high incidences of infections. Excess copper is however toxic to the human body.

What Does Copper Look Like?

Think back to the days when your parents used to cook in copper pots, that orange-red look comes from the copper. It is a malleable, ductile, soft metal with a bright metallic lustre. Copper surfaces exposed to air gradually tarnish to a dull, brownish colour. Have you seen statues that look corroded? This is carbonate verdigris and it occurs when water and air react with copper.

What Is Copper Used For?

Copper is an electrical and heat conducting metal used in electrical equipment such as wiring and motors. It is also used in building materials and metal alloys. Due to its slow corroding properties copper usage can be found in rain downpipes, guttering and in roofing. It is also used in utensils and cookware. It is found in low-denomination statutory coins like the South African five cents and the American one cent penny.

Copper has also been used to line the hull of ships to prevent mussels from attaching and is used in doorhandles to reduce the spreading of bacteria as it is a self-disinfectant. Copper is also used as a wood preservative and is commonly found in jewellery. Africans can often be seen wearing copper bracelets as they believe copper has healing powers.

Where Is Copper Mined?

Copper is mined in many countries; Wiki Answers cites the top copper mining countries are Chile, U.S.A., Peru, China, Australia, Indonesia, Russia, Canada and Zambia. Read more:


Copper has been a major influence in our technology, history and medical practices. With its recyclable qualities and natural abundance it is a metal with staying power. Its uses have spanned centuries and more important today than ever before. Without copper, you wouldn’t be able to read this article as the copper is needed for the processing units within the computer. Copper is another fantastic find by our ancestors.

If you would like to learn more about minerals and mining visit our Mining and Metals page.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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