Is brass on the periodic table?
- On your smartphone, search for “the periodic table of elements”. A monstrous creature should appear, with rows of boxes with letters and probably little numbers. Each of these boxes represents an element – hydrogen (H), iron (Fe), silver (Ag), and so on. You will also find a number written inside each box: this is the number of protons and electrons in one atom of that element.
- Protons, neutrons and electrons are the fundamental particles that make every element. For example, hydrogen (H) has one proton, carbon (C) has six, and iron (Fe) has 26! The size of an atom is broadly larger if it contains more protons, so an iron atom is much larger than the carbon atom, which in turn is larger than a hydrogen atom, and so on.
- The periodic table is atableof all the elements in the universe; indeed, the periodic table is one of the most amazing achievements of many, many people, the culmination of several painstaking discoveries.
- Now, go through the table and look for brass. If you see Br, that’s bromine, a rather poisonous liquid, not what you are looking for.
What is brass?
- Brass is notsupposed to be in the periodic table because it is not an element. It is an alloy, a mixture of elements. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc in some percentages. Both copper and zinc are elemental metals with their own properties, but if you mix them, like you mix masala in a bowl, you can get new ‘flavours’ of metals.
- For example, consider iron – present in the weighing standards the vegetable vendor uses. Add a pinch of carbon (C) and mix, and you will get steel.
- But then steel can rust, so add a teaspoon of chromium and you get stainlesssteel, which does not rust.
- The one or two rupee greyish coin is stainless steel. The new ten-rupee coin has a copper-tin (bronze) mix on the outer, yellow rim; and the five-rupee yellow coin is the all pervading brass, where our story began.
Why is brass useful?
- Why we use brass for so many things and not just copper. Why mix a bit of zinc in it? This is because copper atoms are quite large. The copper metal’s internal structure is really an array of copper atoms arranged in a neat sequence, like the rows of trolley cars arranged in an airport or in the supermarket.
- As it happens, zinc atoms are slightly larger than copper. If you go back to the periodic table, you will find zinc (Zn) sitting just to the right of copper (Cu). It has one more proton and so it is a bit bigger. So a few zinc atoms, in place of copper atoms, are like the misshapen trolley cars that are present in between the otherwise neatly arranged well-shaped cars.
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