Chemical Characteristics of Silver

Silver is an element found in the periodic table with the symbol Ag and having the atomic number 47.  It is known in Greek as άργυρος árguros argentum in Latin, argent in French for both silver and money, and plata in Spanish also for both silver and money.   It is a white, soft material with shiny metallic lustre that  has a melting point of 961.93°C, a boiling point of 2212°C, and a specific gravity of 10.50 g/cc at 20°C, and a valence of 1 or 2.  The metal occurs in nature in pure, free form, as an alloy with gold (electrum) and other metals, and in other minerals, such as argentite.  It is slightly harder than gold and heavier than iron. 

Silver, classified as a noble metal (meaning it is quite resistant to corrosion and has a high potential), has been known and used since ancient history, and was at one point much more valuable than gold.  Silver has the highest electrical conductivity and thermal conductivity of all metals (higher than copper and gold), the lowest contact resistance of any metal, and one of the highest reflectivities (it reflects ultraviolet light poorly and Aluminum reflects parts of the visible spectrum better).  Silver is also a non-magnetic metal (paramagnetc to be more accurate, since It becomes noticeable with a very strong magnet), and because of the other metals used in the manufacturing process, all silver jewelry should be non-magnetic.  Please consult our list of the types of silver for further  details.

Certain silver compounds (silver halides, which include compounds between silver and one of the halogens such as silver bromide (AgBr), cholide (AgCl), iodide (AgI) and other forms of silver fluoride) are photosensitive and can be used to record an invisible image than can later be developed chemically (ie: photographic film).  Silver is stable in pure air and water, but develops an oxidation layer (also referred to as patina) when exposed to air or water containing ozone or hydrogen sulfide to form a dull gray or black layer over the metal which can be removed with a weak solution of hydrochloric acid. 

Silver metal dissolves easily in nitric acid (HNO3) to produce silver nitrate (AgNO3).  It does not react with sulfuric acid.  Although gold easily dissolves into aqua regia as (2)Au + (3)Cl2 + (2)Cl[-] --> (2)AuCl4[-], silver does not dissolve into this solution or in HCl, or HNO3. Aqua Regia is a yellow fuming corrosive mixture of concentrated nitric and hydrochloric acid in a ratio of 1:3 that dissolves many of the noble metals.  In aqua regia, the silver combines with the chlorine atoms to form silver chloride, which generally does not dissolve in the liquid.  Silver chloride does dissolve in ammonium solutions, but this can be very dangerous because it forms silver fulminate  (AgONC), a powerful touch sensitive explosive when dry, which has been used to make percussion caps used in pistols and guns since first introduced around 1820.  Silver nitrate is a transparent, crystalline solid that easily dissolves in water.  The solution is photosensitive and turns grey with exposure to light.  Silver nitrate is typically used to create many other silver compounds, or as an antiseptic.


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