Silver and aluminum are two elements very different from each other in terms of their physical and chemical properties, and while they may have some similarities that often confuse people, there are easier ways to differentiate between them.
This article goes into detail of explaining the properties of each material and their uses.
While doing so, we’ll also be giving you insights on how to tell them apart as well as the telltale signs that can help you identify them.
Silver vs Aluminum (Explained)
If you’ve studied high school chemistry, you’re familiar with the fact that silver is an element in the periodic table (a tabular display of elements according to their properties).
Silver is a scarce precious metal located in the periodic table near gold and copper, mimicking their properties.
You’re probably familiar with silver as a shiny material mostly used decoratively to make ornaments and jewelry.
But did you know, silver is also used in various industrial, chemical, and manufacturing processes as an input, mainly because of its electrical conductivity (the ability to pass electricity through it), malleability (flexibility), and resistance to oxidation (rusting).
Thus silver is a material with a diverse range of uses; making ornaments, jewelry, coins, fabricating printed electrical circuits, and as a coating for electrical conductors.
Silver can also be found mixed between compounds such as sulfides of lead, zinc and copper.
Aluminum is also an element that belongs to the periodic table, however, its position is farther from silver due to differences in their chemical and physical properties.
Aluminum is a commonly used and abundantly present metal in the earth’s core (also found in gems and clay).
Aluminum is used as an add-on for various metals to improve their properties for certain uses, for example, to make aluminum bronzes.
The metal itself along with its alloys (mixture of 2 or more metals) are used industrially and commercially to make aircrafts, refrigerators, construction material, conductors, air conditioners, and utensils.
Along with its diverse range of uses, it’s important to know that pure and untampered with aluminum is a very soft and fragile material in nature.
Commercially and industrially used aluminum has added metals in it to change its structure from soft to becoming hard.
How are silver and aluminum similar to one another?
Silver and aluminum, being elements from the periodic table naturally have some similar characteristics when it comes to appearance, properties, uses, and occurrences:
1. Type of element: silver and aluminum are metals.
2. Appearance: a shiny silver (or white) color, and very lustrous upon first glance.
3. Physical properties: being pure metals, their natural form is soft and weak, thus other metals have to be added to make them harder for commercial use.
4. Chemical properties: both metals are good conductors of electricity, malleable, ductile, and are often used to make alloys with other elements.
5. Reactivity: both metals are less chemically reactive (don’t easily react with other elements or chemicals). Silver is less reactive by nature, and aluminum because of its protective aluminum oxide layer.
6. Commercial uses: both can be used to make jewelry and ornaments, but silver based jewelry has a higher value than aluminum based because of rarity.
7. Medical uses: Both metals have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, mainly for their antibacterial and healing properties.
8. Industrial uses: both are used as inputs in the manufacture of technology such as aluminum for aircrafts, refrigerators, and silver for batteries and LED chips.
9. Occurrence: both metals are extracted from the earth, the top largest extractors being Russia, America, China, Australia, and their peripheries. Fun fact: humans also have trace amount of aluminum and silver in their bodies.
How to differentiate between silver and aluminum?
Despite all these recurring similarities, because of them being different metals, they have some significant differences that set them apart from one another:
1. Elemental properties: silver is a precious metal, belonging to the copper group of transition elements (elements exhibiting transitional behavior), while aluminum belongs to the boron group (characterized by the amount of electron they have in their last shell).
2. Abundance: while silver is a scarce metal and only constitutes 0.5 part per million of the earth’s crust, aluminum being relatively more abundant constitutes about 8% in weight of the earth’s crust.
3. Conductivity: although both silver and aluminum are good conductors of electricity, silver is considered to be a better thermal and electrical conductor than aluminum.
4. Value in dollars: because silver is rarer than aluminum and a precious metal, its value (as of February 2022) is around $340 per pound, while the value of aluminum for the same quantity is 89 cents.
5. Weight: aluminum is considered a lightweight metal while silver is heavier.
6. Density: Aluminum has a very low density (weight) compared to silver. While the density of aluminum is 2.7 g/cm³, that of silver is 10.49 g/cm³, making it denser than aluminum.
7. Chemical properties: aluminum has a higher boiling point (2519 °C) than silver (2162 °C), although it’s only 90% reflective to light whereas silver is 95% reflective.
8. Industrial uses: silver, being a high-value metal is not used for common purposes, but for highly specialized ones in electronics and technology manufacture, while aluminum is a very commonly used metal, used as aluminum foil, making cooking utensils, and for packaging consumer goods.
Why do people confuse silver and aluminum so often?
Because both metals are a shiny, silvery white color, most people get confused between the two and would not be able to tell them apart if you placed a bar of aluminum and silver in front of them.
Both metals also have similar chemical, physical and elemental properties, making it harder to tell them apart.
A good way to identify them both from the get go would be to weigh them in your hand.
Because we know that silver is heavier than aluminum, it would feel a lot heavier in your hand as compared to aluminum.
Of course there are chemical indicators based tests you can do to find out which metal is which, but the easiest way is by doing the weight test.
Most metals have properties very similar to one another, sometimes so much so that it becomes harder to tell them apart just by looking at them.
By now we hope you’ve found out how to differentiate between silver and aluminum based on very simple properties.
Although they seem very similar, it’s the little differences that stand out, and you now know how to identify them.
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