What is Aluminum? - Elements - Quatr.us
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What is Aluminum?

Aluminum atom
Diagram of aluminum atom

October 2016 - Aluminum is one of the heavier atoms that forms inside a red giant star after a star begins to run out of fuel. An atom of aluminum has 13 protons, 14 neutrons, and 13 electrons, so it's a kind of metal. There are only three electrons in the outer ring, which could hold as many as eighteen electrons, so these three lonely electrons are very unstable and are always linking up with electrons from other nearby atoms.

There's lots of aluminum in the Earth's crust; aluminum is the most common element in the Earth's crust after oxygen and silicon. Eight percent of the whole Earth is aluminum. But almost all of this aluminum is mixed with other atoms, because aluminum is so unstable on its own. For example, these three most common elements - aluminum, oxygen, and silicon - combine to make kaolin clay, which is what Chinese potters used to make porcelain.

Aluminum pan
Aluminum pan

In the ancient world, people didn't use aluminum on its own because they had no way to separate it from other atoms. Today, we can separate aluminum using huge amounts of electricity. We use a lot of aluminum because it is light and easy to work, and it doesn't rust like iron. Airplanes are mostly made of aluminum, and also soda cans. That's why it's so important to recycle soda cans - you save all that electricity that you would use to extract new aluminum.

Learn by doing - an experiment with aluminum cans

Bibliography and further information about atoms:

Hydrogen
Helium
Carbon
Oxygen
Molecules
Electricity
Chemistry
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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