Figure 1. Copper, atomic number of 29 and atomic weight of 63.546.[1]
Figure 2. Native copper (not combined to any other element and found naturally), approx. 4 cm in size.[2]

Copper (Cu) is the 29th element on the periodic table, and is found fairly commonly on Earth, with approximately the same abundance as zinc and nickel.[3] Known for its distinct color (visible in Figure 2) copper was one of the first metals ever manipulated by humans - with evidence suggesting its use for over 11 000 years.[4]

Copper is used in large amounts in the electricity industry in the form of wire, due to its high electrical conductivity (see the table below).[4] Its conductivity is second only to silver, however copper is about 860 times more abundant on Earth than silver,[3] so it is much cheaper. Although it is used predominantly in wiring, other uses for copper include plumbing, currency, and jewelry. Copper is too soft to be used alone for most applications but people discovered long ago that it can be mixed with other metals to form strong alloys. The most famous examples is mixing copper with tin to make bronze, or with zinc to form brass.[4]

Some properties of copper include:[4][5]

Atomic weight 63.546
Density (at 0oC) 8.933 g/cm3
Boiling point 2835 K
Melting point 1357.8 K
Electrical conductivity 6.30×107 σ
Embodied energy[6] 30-90 MJ/kg

Uses of Copper

The uses of copper by percentage (estimated) are shown in the Figure below.[7]


Figure 4. Copper wire.[8]

Copper is the major component of wiring. In a single vehicle there is about 1.5 kilometers of copper wiring, with a total mass of about 20 kilograms in small cars and 45 kilograms in luxury and hybrid cars.[9] Along with wiring of vehicles and other electronics, copper wiring is used in electrical generation and transmission (aside from overhead power lines, which are made from aluminum).

Aside from its excellent conductivity, copper is also very ductile so it is very easy to work with. Specific examples of copper use in electrical applications include circuit boards, microchips, semiconductors, electromagnets, electric motors, wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, and much, much more. Basically any wiring aside from power lines are formed with copper.[7]


Figure 5: Note the contrast of the old copper (green) and the new copper (copper) on this observatory.[10]

Copper is the standard material for plumbing not only due to its high melting point and corrosion resistance, but also because it does not allow for the growth of bacteria or viruses. It is also ductile and easy to solder; it is easy to bend and piece together.

In addition to plumbing, copper and its alloys are used in construction to make heat exchangers, pipelines, agricultural water systems, roofs, handles, doorknobs and other building materials, and more.[7]


The video below is from the University of Nottingham's periodic videos project.[11] They have created a complete suite of short videos on every element on the periodic table of elements.


  1. Made with information from the Royal Society of Chemistry, Available:
  2. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  3. 3.0 3.1 (July 31, 2015). Abundance in Earth's Crust of the elements [Online], Available:
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Jefferson Lab. (July 31, 2015). The Element Copper [Online], Available:
  5. Chemistry on (July 31, 2015). Table of Electrical Resistivity and Conductivity [Online], Available:
  6. UNEP. (August 19, 2015). Environmental Risks and Challenges of Anthropogenic Metals Flows and Cycles [Online]. Available:
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Metals @ (July 31, 2015). Copper Applications [Online], Available:
  8. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  9. US Geological Survey. (July 31, 2015). Copper - A Metal for the Ages [Online], Available:
  10. By Royal_Observatory_Edinburgh_East_Tower_2010.jpg: Chi And Hderivative work: Spinningspark [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons downloaded 2016-12-30
  11. See more videos from the University of Nottingham on different elements here:

Authors and Editors

Jordan Hanania, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: January 8, 2017
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