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ZINC

DOI: 10.1615/AtoZ.z.zinc

Zinc – (Ger. Zink. of obscure origin), Zn; atomic weight, 65.38; atomic number 30; melting point 419.58°C; boiling point 907°C; specific gravity 7.133 (25°C); valence 2.

Centuries before zinc was recognized as a distinct element, zinc ores were used for making brass, Tubal-Cain, seven generations from Adam, is mentioned as being an "instructor in every artificer in brass and iron." An alloy containing 87% zinc has been found in prehistoric ruins in Transylvania. Metallic zinc was produced in the 13th century A.D. in India by reducing calamine with organic substances such as wool. The metal was rediscovered in Europe by Marggraf in 1746, who showed that it could be obtained by reducing calamine with charcoal. The principal ores of zinc are sphalerite or blende (sulfide), smithsonite (carbonate), calamine (silicate), and franklinite (zinc, manganese, iron oxide). Zinc can be obtained by roasting its ores to form the oxide and by reduction of the oxide with coal or carbon, with subsequent distillation of the metal. Other methods of extraction are possible.

Naturally occurring zinc contains five stable isotopes. Ten other unstable nuclides and isomers are recognized. Zinc is a bluish-white, lustrous metal. It is brittle at ordinary temperatures but malleable at 100 to 150°C. It is a fair conductor of electricity, and burns in air at high red heat with evolution of white clouds of the oxide. The metal is employed to form numerous alloys with other metals. Brass, nickel silver, typewriter metal, commercial bronze, spring brass, German silver, soft solder, and aluminum solder are some of the more important alloys. Large quantities of zinc are used to produce die castings, used extensively by the automotive, electrical, and hardware industries.

An alloy called Prestal, consisting of 78% zinc and 22% aluminum is reported to be almost as strong as steel but as easy to mold as plastic. It is said to be so plastic that it can be molded into form by relatively inexpensive die casts made of ceramics and cement. It exhibits superplasticity. Zinc is also extensively used to galvanize other metals such as iron to prevent corrosion.

Neither zinc nor zirconium is ferromagnetic, but ZrZn2 exhibits ferromagnetism at temperatures below 35 K. Zinc oxide is a unique and very useful material to modern civilization. It is widely used in the manufacture of paints, rubber products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, floor coverings, plastics, printing inks, soap, storage batteries, textiles, electrical equipment, and other products. It has unusual electrical, thermal, optical, and solid-state properties that have not yet been fully investigated. Lithopone, a mixture of zinc sulfide and barium sulfate, is an important pigment. Zinc sulfide is used in making luminous dials, X-ray and TV screens, and fluorescent lights. The chloride and chromate are also important compounds.

Zinc is an essential element in the growth of human beings and animals. Tests show that zinc-deficient animals require 50% more food to gain the same weight of an animal supplied with sufficient zinc. Zinc is not considered to be toxic, but when freshly formed ZnO is inhaled a disorder known as the oxide shakes or zinc chills sometimes occurs. It is recommended that where zinc oxide is encountered good ventilation be provided to avoid concentrations exceeding 5 mg/M3 (time-weighted over an 8-hr exposure, 40-hr work week).

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