Aluminum is one of a number of soft metals that scientists call "poor" metals. It can be shaped and twisted into any form. It can be rolled into thick plates for armored tanks or into thin foil for chewing gum wrappers. It may be drawn into a wire or made into cans. Aluminum is a generally popular metal because it does not rust and it resists wear from weather and chemicals. (Bowman, 391)
Aluminum is an element. Its atomic number is thirteen and its atomic weight is usually twenty-seven. Pure aluminum melts at 660.2ºC and boils at 2500ºC. Its density is 2.7 grams per cube centimeter. Aluminum is never found uncombined in nature. (Bowman, 391) Aluminum is a very useful metal that is light, easy to shape and can be strong. This makes aluminum one of the most used metals in the world, right behind iron and steel. (Geary, 185)
In its pure state, aluminum is quite weak compared to the other metals. However, its strength can be greatly increased by adding small amounts of alloying elements, heat-treating, or cold working. Only a small percentage of aluminum is used in its pure form. It is made into such items as electrical conductors, jewelry, and decorative trim for alliances and cars. A combination of the three techniques has produced aluminum alloys that, pound for pound, are stronger than structural steel. Some common metals used in alloys for aluminum are copper, magnesium and zinc.(Walker, 31) The added elements give the aluminum strength and other properties. (Newmark, 41)
Aluminum is one of the lightest metals. It weighs about 168.5 pounds per cubic foot, about a third as much as steel which weighs 487 pounds per cubic foot. (Neely, 214) As a result, aluminum has replaced steel for many uses. For example, some parts of airplanes, automobiles and trucks are now made of aluminum rather than steel because lighter vehicles use less fuel, making the aluminum alloy container much cheaper to move. (Geary, 185) To make aluminum alloys even lighter, the lightest metal, lithium, is added to aluminum. Products packed in aluminum cost less to ship because the containers weigh less than those made with other metals. The same is true with automobiles the engine block, drive shafts, radiator, wheels and body panels can all be made of aluminum alloys. The car thus weighs less, and, again, the fuel consumption improves. Unfortunately, the price also increases, which is why cars and trucks today are still made of mostly steel. (Advantages to Aluminum)
Although pure aluminum is weak, certain aluminum alloys are as strong as steel. Such alloys are used in airplanes, automobiles, guardrails along highways, and in other products that require strength. Aluminum alloys loose some strength at high temperatures. Unlike many other metals, however, they get stronger at extremely low temperatures. Aluminum alloys are widely used in equipment for processing, transporting and storing liquified natural gas, which can have a temperature of -260º F. (Walker, 36) Some metals wear away if exposed to oxygen, water, or various chemicals. When exposed to them a chemical reaction causes most metals to rust or become discolored. When aluminum reacts with oxygen, however, the metal forms an invisible layer of a chemical compound called aluminum oxide. This layer protects aluminum from corrosion by oxygen, water and many chemicals. It makes aluminum especially valuable for use outdoors where the metal is exposed to, and must resist the effects of wind, rain and pollution. (Knapp, 9)
Aluminum is a good conductor of electricity. Aluminum and copper are the only common metals suitable for use as electrical conductors. Aluminum conducts electricity two thirds as well as copper; however aluminum weighs a third as much. (Aluminum Facts) Aluminum wire can carry the same amount of electric power as copper wire with a lot less weight. In addition, aluminum can be drawn into wires more easily than copper. Today, more than nine out of every ten miles of large- diameter electrical cable are made from aluminum, rather than traditional copper. This is because aluminum is cheaper and, lighter requiring less pylons to hold up the cables. (Advantages to Aluminum)
Like all metals, aluminum conducts heat and can be used either to carry or bring heat to a cold object. Aluminum is sometimes