Properties of metals, metalloids and nonmetals
The chemical elements can be broadly divided into metals, metalloids and nonmetals according to their shared physical and chemical properties. Metals have a lustrous appearance (as is, or beneath any surface patina); are good conductors of heat and electricity; form alloys with other metals; and each has at least one predominately basic oxide. Metalloids are metallic looking brittle solids that are either semiconductors or exist in semiconducting forms, and have amphoteric or weakly acidic oxides. Unambiguous nonmetals have a dull, coloured or colourless appearance; are brittle when solid; are poor conductors of heat and electricity; and, if they form any oxides, these are distinctly acidic or weakly amphoteric. A few elements have properties that are unique within their overall category, or otherwise noteable.
Metals appear lustrous (as is, or beneath any surface patina); form mixtures (alloys) when combined with other metals; tend to lose or share electrons when they react with other substances; and each forms at least one predominately basic oxide.
Most metals are silvery looking, high density, relatively soft and easily deformed solids with good electrical and thermal conductivity, closely packed structures, low ionisation energies and electronegativities, and are found naturally in combined states.
Some metals appear coloured (Cu, Cs, Au), have low densities (e.g. Be, Al) or very high melting points, are liquids at or near room temperature, are brittle (e.g. Os, Bi), not easily machined (e.g. Ti, Re), or are noble (hard to oxidise) or have nonmetallic structures (Mn and Ga are structurally analogous to, respectively, white P and I).
Metals comprise the large majority of the elements, and can be subdivided into several different categories. From left to right in the periodic table, these categories include the highly reactive alkali metals; the less reactive alkaline earth metals, lanthanides and radioactive actinides; the archetypal transition metals, and the physically and chemically weak post-transition metals. Specialized subcategories such as the refractory metals and the noble metals, which are subsets (in this example) of the transition metals, are also known.
Metalloids are metallic looking brittle solids; tend to share electrons when they react with other substances; have weakly acidic or amphoteric oxides; and are usually found naturally in combined states.
Most are semiconductors, and moderate thermal conductors, and have structures that are more open than those of most metals.
The metalloids, as the smallest major category of elements, are not subdivided further.
Nonmetals are either coloured, colourless, or metallic in appearance; have open structures (unless solidified from gaseous or liquid forms); tend to gain or share electrons when they react with other substances; and do not form distinctly basic oxides.
Most are gases at room temperature; have relatively low densities; are poor electrical and thermal conductors; have relatively high ionisation energies and electronegativities; form acidic oxides; and are found naturally in uncombined states in large amounts.
Some nonmetals (C, black P, S and I) are brittle solids at room temperature however these are also known in malleable, pliable or ductile forms; some other nonmetals are either highly reactive (O, F, white P, Cl) or relatively unreactive (N, black P) or noble.
From left to right in the periodic table, the nonmetals can be subdivided into the polyatomic nonmetals which, being nearest to the metalloids, show some incipient metallic character; the diatomic nonmetals, which are essentially nonmetallic; and the monatomic noble gases, which are nonmetallic and almost completely inert.
The following two sections summarize thirty-three physical and chemical properties of metals, metalloids and nonmetals. Shading indicates properties characteristic of metals, nonmetals, and metalloids; shading for the metalloid column varies depending on whether, for a particular property, metalloids display characteristics similar to metals, similar to nonmetals, or different from both.
Metalloids are more like metals in six properties: four physical ('form', 'appearance', 'enthalpy of fusion', and 'liquid electrical conductivity') and two chemical ('with metals', 'with carbon'). They are more like nonmetals in five properties: two physical ('deformability' and 'Poisson's ratio') and three chemical ('general behaviour', 'ion formation', and 'oxidation number'). In the other twenty-two properties (13 physical and 9 chemical), metal, metalloid and nonmetal characteristics are reasonably distinct.
Some authors count metalloids as nonmetals or a sub-category of nonmetals, and would view the properties of these elements as weakly nonmetallic.[n 1] Others count some metalloids (for example, germanium, arsenic or antimony) as post transition metals, and would view the properties of these elements as being weakly metallic.
These 19 properties are listed in loose order of ease of determination.
|Form||solid; Rb, Cs, Fr, Ga, Hg liquid at/near stp[n 2]||solid||mostly gaseous|
|Appearance||lustrous||lustrous||colourless, red, yellow, green, black, or intermediate shades|
|Reflectivity||intermediate to typically high||intermediate||zero or low (mostly) to intermediate|
|Allotropy[n 3]||• around half form allotropes
• a few (e.g. grey Sn, thin-film Bi) are more metalloidal or nonmetallic than others
|• all or nearly all form allotropes
• some (e.g. red B, yellow As) are more nonmetallic than others
|• over half form allotropes
• some (e.g. C as graphite, black P, grey Se, crystalline I) are more metalloidal or metallic than others
|Density||generally high, with some exceptions such as the alkali metals||lower than neighbouring metals but higher than neighbouring nonmetals||often low|
|Deformability (when solid)||typically ductile and malleable||brittle||brittle|
|Poisson's ratio[n 4]||low to high[n 5]||low to intermediate[n 6]||low to intermediate[n 7]|
|Electrical conductivity||good to high[n 8]||intermediate to good[n 9]||poor to good[n 10]|
|Temperature coefficient of resistance[n 11]||nearly all positive (Pu is negative)||negative (B, Si, Ge, Te) or positive (As, Sb)||nearly all negative (C, as graphite, is positive in the direction of its planes)|
|Thermal conductivity||medium to high||mostly intermediate; Si is high||almost negligible to very high|
|Melting behaviour||volume generally expands||some contract, unlike (most) metals||volume generally expands|
|Enthalpy of fusion||low to high||intermediate to very high||very low to low (except C is very high)|
|Liquid electrical conductivity||conductivity falls gradually as temperature rises[n 12]||most behave like metals||conductivity increases as temperature rises|
|Packing||close-packed crystal structures; high coordination numbers||relatively open crystal structures, with medium coordination numbers||low coordination numbers|
|Atomic radius (calculated)||• intermediate to very large
• 112–298 pm (10−12 m), average 187
|• small to intermediate: B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te
• 87–123 pm, av. 115.5
|• very small to intermediate
• 31–120 pm, av. 76.4
|Periodic table block||s, p, d, f ||p ||s, p |
|Number of outer s and p electrons||• mostly low (1–3)
• except 0(Pd); 4(Sn,Pb,Fl); 5(Bi); 6(Po)
|medium (3–6)||• mostly high (4–8)
• except 1(H); 2(He)
|Electronic structure: (valence, conduction bands)||• nearly all have substantial band overlap
• Bi has slight band overlap (semimetal)
|• most have narrow band gap (semiconductors)
• As, Sb are semimetals
|• most have wide band gap (insulators)
• C (graphite) is a semimetal
• P (black), Se, I are semiconductors
|Electron behaviour||"free" electrons (facilitating electrical and thermal conductivity)||• valence electrons less freely delocalized; considerable covalent bonding present
• have Goldhammer-Herzfeld criterion[n 13] ratios straddling unity
|no, few, or directionally confined "free" electrons (generally hampering electrical and thermal conductivity)|
These 14 properties are listed in loose order of increasing specificity, starting with the elements themselves and finishing with the properties of some of their characteristic compounds.
(of combined or uncombined forms)
|• most usually in combined states
• some (e.g. Au, Cu, Ag, Pt) occur in free or uncombined states
|all usually found in combined states||• majority (C, N, O, S, noble gases) found uncombined in large amounts
• others only combined (except H, F[n 14], Se)
|Ion formation||tend to form cations||• some tendency to form anions in water;
• solution chemistry dominated by formation and reactions of oxyanions
|tend to form anions|
|Bonds||seldom form covalent||can form salts as well as covalent compounds||form many covalent|
|Oxidation number||nearly always positive||positive or negative||positive or negative|
|Ionization energy||relatively low||intermediate||high|
|Electronegativity||usually low||• Pauling: close to 2
• Allen: in narrow range 1.9–2.2[n 15]
|Abundance in human body||• about 1.5% Ca
• traces of most others thru 92U
|trace amounts of B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te||• about 97% O, C, H, N, P;
• others detectable except noble gases
|With metals||form alloys||can form alloys||form ionic or interstitial compounds|
|Carbon compounds||carbides and organometallic compounds||same as metals||carbon-nonmetal (e.g. CO2, CS2)[n 16] or organic (e.g. CH4, C6H12O6) compounds|
|Hydrides||• alkali, alkaline earth metals: form ionic, solid hydrides with high melting points;
• transition metals: metallic hydrides;
• post-transition metals: covalent hydrides
|covalent, volatile hydrides||covalent, gaseous or liquid hydrides|
|Oxides||• nearly all solid (Mn2O7 is a liquid
• very few glass formers
• lower oxides: ionic and basic
• higher oxides: more covalent, acidic
• glass formers (B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te)
• polymeric in structure; tend to be amphoteric or weakly acidic
|• solid, liquid or gaseous
• few glass formers (P, S, Se)
• covalent, acidic
|Sulfates||do form[n 17][n 18]||most form[n 19]||some form[n 20]|
|Halides, esp. chlorides (see also)||• ionic, involatile
• mostly water soluble (not hydrolysed)
• higher halides, those of weaker metals: greater covalency and volatility, and more or less prone to hydrolysis (layer-lattice types often reversibly so) and to dissolution in organic solvents
|• covalent, volatile
• some partly reversibly hydrolysed
• usually dissolve in organic solvents
|• covalent, volatile
• most irreversibly hydrolysed by water
• usually dissolve in organic solvents
Unique or notable properties
Within each category, elements can be found with one or two properties very different from the expected norm, or that are otherwise notable.
- Uniquely among metals, mercury has an ionisation energy that is higher than those of the nonmetals sulfur and selenium; plutonium increases its electrical conductivity when heated, in the temperature range of around –175 to +125 °C (metals normally reduce their electrical conductivity when heated).
- Manganese has a complex crystal structure with a 58-atom unit cell, effectively four different atomic radii, and four different coordination numbers (10, 11, 12 and 16). It has been described as resembling "a quaternary intermetallic compound with four Mn atom types bonding as if they were different elements." The half-filled 3d shell of manganese appears to be the cause of the complexity. This confers a large magnetic moment on each atom. Below 727° C, a unit cell of 58 spatially diverse atoms represents the energetically lowest way of achieving a zero net magnetic moment. The crystal structure of manganese makes it a hard and brittle metal, with low electrical and thermal conductivity. At higher temperatures "greater lattice vibrations nullify magnetic effects" and manganese adopts less complex structures.
- Magnetism amongst pure metals is a rare property. Only iron, cobalt or nickel are strongly attracted to magnets at room temperature. Gadolinium does so at just below room temperature; dysprosium at ultra cold temperatures.
- Mercury is 13.5 times as dense as water, meaning bricks and bowling balls will float on its surface. Equally, a solid mercury bowling ball would weigh around 50 pounds and, if it could be kept cold enough, would float on the surface of liquid gold.
- Gold is extraordinarily malleable; a fist sized lump could be hammered and separated into one million paper back sized sheets, each 10 nm thick.
- Lead is ordinarily thought of as a dense, heavy metal—being nearly as dense as mercury—and thereby giving rise to the expression, to "go down like a lead balloon." However, it is possible to construct a lead balloon, filled with a helium and air mixture, which will float and be buoyant enough to carry a small load.
- Bismuth was discovered in the Middle Ages and until recently was thought to be the element with the highest atomic number that was stable (Z = 83). In 2003 it was found to be slightly radioactive: its only primordial isotope, bismuth-209, decays via alpha decay with a half life more than a billion times the estimated age of the universe. This makes lead the element with the highest atomic number that is stable (Z = 82).
- It is sometimes stated that "alkali metal ions (group 1A) always have a +1 charge" and that "transition elements do not form anions". The synthesis of a crystalline salt of the sodium anion Na− was reported in 1974. Since then further compounds ("alkalides") containing anions of all other alkali metals except Li and Fr, as well as that of Ba, have been prepared. In 1943, Sommer reported the preparation of the yellow transparent compound CsAu. This was subsequently shown to consist of caesium cations (Cs+) and auride anions (Au−) although it took some years for this "surprising" conclusion to be accepted. Several other aurides (KAu, RbAu) have since been synthesized, as well as the red transparent compound Cs2Pt which was found to contain Cs+ and Pt2− ions.
- Uniquely among metalloids, silicon is a better thermal conductor than most metals; arsenic, like the nonmetals carbon and red phosphorus, sublimes rather than melts at standard atmospheric pressure.
- For seven decades, fluorosulfonic acid HSO3F and trifluoromethanesulfonic acid CF3SO3H were the strongest known acids, isolable as single compounds. This record was surpassed in 2004 with the synthesis of carborane acid H(CHB11Cl11) a substance one million times more acidic than concentrated sulfuric acid. The strongest known acid, which is 10 billion times stronger than carborane acid, features another metalloid. This is fluoroantimonic acid H2F[SbF6] which is a mixture of antimony pentafluoride SbF5 and hydrofluoric acid HF.
- Porous silicon (p-Si) is a sponge-like form of silicon, typically prepared by the electrochemical etching of silicon wafers in a hydrofluoric acid solution. Flakes of p-Si sometimes appear red; it has a band gap of 1.97–2.1 eV. The many tiny pores in porous silicon give it an enormous internal surface area, up to 1,000 m2/cm3. When exposed to an oxidant, especially a liquid oxidant, the high surface-area to volume ratio of p-Si creates a very efficient burn, accompanied by nano-explosions, and sometimes by ball-lightning-like plasmoids with, for example, a diameter of 0.1–0.8 m, a velocity of up to 0.5 m/s and a lifetime of up to 1s. The first ever spectrographic analysis of a ball lightning event (in 2012) revealed the presence of silicon, iron and calcium, these elements also being present in the soil.
- Explosive antimony is another form of high-energy metalloid. It is prepared by the electrolysis of any of the heavier antimony trihalides (Cl, Br, I) in a hydrochloric acid solution at low temperature. It comprises amorphous antimony with some occluded antimony trihalide (7–20% in the case of the trichloride). When scratched, struck, powdered or heated quickly to 200° C, it "flares up, emits sparks and is converted explosively into the lower-energy, crystalline grey antimony."
- Uniquely among nonmetals, carbon, as graphite, conducts electricity better than some metals.
- The two stable heavier isotopes of helium, helium-3 and helium 4, each have a negative enthalpy of fusion, at temperatures below 0.3 and 0.8 K, respectively. This means that, at the appropriate constant pressures, these substances freeze with the addition of heat.
- The diamond form of carbon is the best natural conductor of heat; it even feels cold to the touch. Its thermal conductivity (2,200 W/m•K) is five times greater than the most conductive metal (Ag at 429); 300 times higher than the least conductive metal (Pl at 6.74); and nearly 4,000 times that of water (0.58) and 100,000 times that of air (0.0224). This high thermal conductivity is used by jewelers and gemologists to separate diamonds from imitations.
- White phosphorus is the least stable and most reactive form of phosphorus. It is a hazardous, highly flammable and toxic substance, spontaneously igniting in air and producing phosphoric acid residue. It is therefore normally stored under water. White phosphorus is also the most common, industrially important, and easily reproducible allotrope, and for these reasons is regarded as the standard state of the element. The most stable form of phosphorus is the black allotrope, which is a metallic looking, brittle and relatively non-reactive semiconductor (unlike the white allotrope, which has a white or yellowish appearance, is pliable, highly reactive and a semiconductor). When assessing periodicity in the physical properties of the elements it needs to be borne in mind that the quoted properties of phosphorus tend to be those of the least stable form rather than, as is the case with all other elements, the most stable form.
- Water (H2O) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) are two well known oxides of hydrogen. Less well known is the trioxide, H2O3. Berthelot proposed the existence of this oxide in 1880 but his suggestion was soon forgotten as there was no way of testing it using the technology of the time. Hydrogen trioxide was prepared in 1994 by replacing the oxygen used in the industrial process for making hydrogen peroxide, with ozone. The yield is about 40 per cent, at –78° C; above around –40° C it decomposes into water and oxygen. Derivatives of hydrogen trioxide, such as F3C–O–O–O–CF3 ("bis(trifluoromethyl) trioxide") are known; these are metastable at room temperature. Mendeleev went a step further, in 1895, and proposed the existence of hydrogen tetroxide HO–O–O–OH as a transient intermediate in the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide; this was prepared and characterised in 1974, using a matrix isolation technique. Alkali metal ozonide salts of the unknown hydrogen ozonide (HO3) are also known; these have the formula MO3.
- Iodine is the mildest of the halogens and is used, in its elemental form, as a disinfectant. One of these, tincture of iodine, can be found in household medicine cabinets or emergency survival kits. Tincture of iodine will rapidly dissolve gold. Such a task ordinarily necessitates the use of aqua regia, this being a highly corrosive mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids.
- For example:
- Brinkley writes that boron has weakly nonmetallic properties.
- Glinka describes silicon as a weak nonmetal.
- Eby et al. discuss the weak chemical behaviour of the elements close to the metal-nonmetal borderline.
- Booth and Bloom say "A period represents a stepwise change from elements strongly metallic to weakly metallic to weakly nonmetallic to strongly nonmetallic, and then, at the end, to an abrupt cessation of almost all chemical properties ...".
- Cox notes "nonmetallic elements close to the metallic borderline (Si, Ge, As, Sb, Se, Te) show less tendency to anionic behaviour and are sometimes called metalloids."
- Copernicium is reported to be the only metal known to be a gas at room temperature.
- At atmospheric pressure, for elements with known structures
- For polycrystalline forms of the elements unless otherwise noted. Determining Poisson's ratio accurately is a difficult proposition and there could be considerable uncertainty in some reported values.
- Beryllium has the lowest known value (0.0476) amongst elemental metals; indium and thallium each have the highest known value (0.46). Around one third show a value ≥ 0.33.
- Boron 0.13; silicon 0.22; germanium 0.278; amorphous arsenic 0.27; antimony 0.25; tellurium ~0.2.
- Graphitic carbon 0.25; [diamond 0.0718]; black phosphorus 0.30; sulfur 0.287; amorphous selenium 0.32; amorphous iodine ~0.
- Metals have electrical conductivity values of from 6.9 × 103 S•cm−1 for manganese to 6.3 × 105 for silver.
- Metalloids have electrical conductivity values of from 1.5 × 10−6 S•cm−1 for boron to 3.9 × 104 for arsenic. If selenium is included as a metalloid the applicable conductivity range would start from ~10−9 to 10−12 S•cm−1.
- Nonmetals have electrical conductivity values of from ~10−18 S•cm−1 for the elemental gases to 3 × 104 in graphite.
- At or near room temperature
- Mott and Davis note however that 'liquid europium has a negative temperature coefficient of resistance' i.e. that conductivity increases with rising temperature
- The Goldhammer-Herzfeld criterion is a ratio that compares the force holding an individual atom's valence electrons in place with the forces, acting on the same electrons, arising from interactions between the atoms in the solid or liquid element. When the interatomic forces are greater than or equal to the atomic force, valence electron itinerancy is indicated. Metallic behaviour is then predicted. Otherwise nonmetallic behaviour is anticipated. The Goldhammer-Herzfeld criterion is based on classical arguments. It nevertheless offers a relatively simple first order rationalization for the occurrence of metallic character amongst the elements.
- Fluorine can be found in its elemental form, as an occlusion in the mineral antozonite
- Chedd defines metalloids as having electronegativity values of 1.8 to 2.2 (Allred-Rochow scale). He included boron, silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony, tellurium, polonium and astatine in this category. In reviewing Chedd's work, Adler described this choice as arbitrary, given other elements have electronegativities in this range, including copper, silver, phosphorus, mercury and bismuth. He went on to suggest defining a metalloid simply as, 'a semiconductor or semimetal' and 'to have included the interesting materials bismuth and selenium in the book'.
- Phosphorus is known to form a carbide in thin films.
- See, for example, the sulfates of the transition metals, the lanthanides and the actinides.
- Sulfates of osmium have not been characterized with any great degree of certainty.
- Common metalloids: Boron is reported to be capable of forming an oxysulfate (BO)2SO4, a bisulfate B(HSO4)3 and a sulfate B2(SO4)3. The existence of a sulfate has been disputed. In light of the existence of silicon phosphate, a silicon sulfate might also exist. Germanium forms an unstable sulfate Ge(SO4)2 (d 200 °C). Arsenic forms oxide sulfates As2O(SO4)2 (= As2O3.2SO3) and As2(SO4)3 (= As2O3.3SO3). Antimony forms a sulfate Sb2(SO4)3 and an oxysulfate (SbO)2SO4. Tellurium forms an oxide sulfate Te2O3(SO)4. Less common: Polonium forms a sulfate Po(SO4)2. It has been suggested that the astatine cation forms a weak complex with sulfate ions in acidic solutions.
- Hydrogen forms hydrogen sulfate H2SO4. Carbon forms (a blue) graphite hydrogen sulfate C+
4 • 2.4H2SO4. Nitrogen forms nitrosyl hydrogen sulfate (NO)HSO4 and nitronium (or nitryl) hydrogen sulfate (NO2)HSO4. There are indications of a basic sulfate of selenium SeO2.SO3 or SeO(SO4). Iodine forms a polymeric yellow sulfate (IO)2SO4.
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- Cox 2004, p. 27
- Stoker 2010, p. 62
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