Mercury: Liquid Silver Science 8A Leone - By Sam Singer

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Image Caption: This is a picture of mercury in its natural, liquid form. This picture also shows how mercury’s symbol got its name – from the latin word hydragyrum, which means liquid silver.

Mercury (Hg) is a Group 12, Period 6 Transition Metal and is the only metal to be in the liquid state of matter at room temperature (25ºC). It has a boiling point of 357ºC. The discovery of Mercury was not attributed to a specific person, and was known before 2000 BC to the Chinese and Hindus. It was found in tubes in Egyptian tombs, Greek ointments, and Roman cosmetics. Mercury’s name originates from the planet Mercury. (

In its most stable and natural form, mercury has an atomic number of 80, which means it has 80 protons. It also has 80 electrons and 121 neutrons. Its other stable isotopes have atomic masses of 196, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, and 204.

Image Caption: This picture shows a power plant burning coal, one of the largest sources of mercury.

Sources of mercury in nature include volcanoes, forest fires, ore, and fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. Mining used to be one of the largest sources of mercury. For example, gold mines in the Sierra Nevadas produced several thousands of tons of mercury in the early 20th century. The current largest sources of mercury, although not natural, are from pollution emissions from power plants. The production of mercury in power plants has caused legislation to be proposed for emission from power plants reduced, as these toxic pollutants are impacting our air and water supply. (

Image Caption: This picture shows one of mercury’s most famous former uses – inside a thermometer.

Due to its toxicity, mercury is not being used for many of its previous purposes, and is under review for others. It is currently used for manufacturing sodium hydroxide and chlorine using the electrolysis method, although both of these uses will be phased out by 2020. More former uses of mercury included batteries, thermometers, fluorescent lights, production of felt, thermometers, and barometers. Two more current uses of mercury are a bright red paint pigment and dental fillings using alloys made with other metals such as gold, silver, and tin. (

Image Caption: This picture shows a mercury amalgam with another metal. This amalgams are commonly used in dental procedures.

Scientific Fact: Although mercury usually has properties of a +1 or +2 oxidation number state, it sometimes exhibits properties of a +4 oxidation state. In this state, mercury behaves somewhat like a noble gas and forms weak bonds with other elements except its formation of amalgams with other metals.

Fun Fact: Mercury forms its rounded shiny beads of liquid metal due to its high surface tension.

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