Copper Oddities

These are some of the more peculiar properties of copper.

The Copper "Smell"

Let's make it clear at once: copper has no smell !!

Can you remember the distinctive odour of copper you get when handling copper coins? Or how the water from the fountain in the back end of your elementary school tasted pretty much like the smell of those copper coins? You were wrong—metal has no smell.

According to a new science, what we think of as the smell of metal is actually the smell of our own body. When we come into contact with metal, it catalyzes reactions among the slime of organic molecules that coats our bodies. When skin oils are exposed to iron and copper they can produce smelly aldehydes and ketones; for instance, touching iron can produce the ketone 1-octen-3-one, which has a mushroom-like, metallic odor (which, I’m guessing, can’t be good).

One thing that seems weird about this is that even metal that has not been touched seem to smell. Maybe it’s possible that someone touched it in the past and although they’re long gone, their fetid, decomposing skin oils linger on.

The Colour of Copper

Let's take the scientific explanation first (beware, this is not really easy):

"Whereas most other pure metals are gray or silvery white, copper is red. Metal colour is determined by the density of loosely bound (valence) electrons; those electrons oscillate as a collective "plasma" medium described in terms of a quasiparticle called plasmon. The frequency of these oscillations lies in the ultraviolet range for most metals, but it falls into the visible range for copper due to subtle relativistic effects that affect the orbitals around copper atoms."

The Symbol of CopperThroughout history the colour of metals have been extremely important and especially for the "Group 11" elements. The Group 11 elements are copper, silver and gold. As we all know, all of these metals have been used in coinage purposes. Why is that? Well, it is almost impossible to counterfeit the colour of metal, so that made the coins value the value of the metal itself.

The Copper Symbol

In Greece, copper was known by the name chalkos. It was an important resource for the Romans, Greeks and other ancient peoples. In Roman times, it was known as aes Cyprium, aes being the generic Latin term for copper alloys and Cyprium from Cyprus, where much copper was mined. The phrase was simplified to cuprum (where the scientific element name Cu come from), hence the English copper.

Aphrodite and Venus represented copper in mythology and alchemy, due to its lustrous beauty, its ancient use in producing mirrors, and its association with Cyprus, which was sacred to the goddess. The seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients were associated with the seven metals known in antiquity, and Venus was assigned to copper. The copper symbol itself is thought to represent a mirror. The symbol is also the symbol of the woman.