Electrolysis can be used to purify copper and copper has many uses.
Apart from gold, copper is the only metal which is not naturally grey or silver. Shiny, reddish copper is an important metal in industry today, and was the first metal manipulated by humans. The oldest metal object, found in the Middle East, is made of copper. It is a small awl, a sharp tool used for making holes in materials, and it dates back as far as 5100 BC. Other archaeological digs suggest that the Ancient Egyptians used copper tubes to transport water in around 2750 BC. You can see part of one of these pipes in a museum in Berlin, and it is still in a great condition, even if the temple it was found in is not!!
The Statue of Liberty in New York is made from over 80 tonnes of copper. It is green because of the copper patina effect. As copper comes into contact with water, oxygen and other compounds over time, it builds up a blue-green coating on the surface. Even better, this coating protects it from more corrosion – therefore makes it more durable! This green patina has protected the Statue since 1886!
In addition to all of this – copper has antimicrobial properties! Even though microbes were not discovered until the 19th century, copper compounds have been used by the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Aztecs to treat disease. For example, the Aztecs treated sore throats with it, the Egyptians used it to sterilise drinking water and wounds.
GCSE scientists – you need to understand how electrolysis works. For help with this, try our new guide “How to work with Electrolysis”. It includes explanations on the electrolysis of molten compounds, and aqueous solutions. Included are half equations, questions for you to try, and answers to check your understanding.
To see the guide click the picture below.
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