The Shiny Element Silver


Introduction to the Element Silver

The element silver is a white and shiny transition metal. This metal has the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of all metals. Though it is more abundant than gold, silver is a precious metal.

The element Silver has the symbol Ag and atomic number 47 on the periodic table. It is a soft, lustrous metal that is highly malleable and ductile. Silver is a good conductor of heat and electricity, and is often used in electrical and electronic applications.

Silver is one of the oldest known elements, and has been used by humans for thousands of years in jewelry, coins, and other decorative objects. It is also used in many industrial and commercial applications, such as in the production of mirrors, jewelry, electrical contacts, and water purification systems.

Silver has many unique properties that make it useful in a wide range of applications. For example, it is the most reflective of all the elements, which makes it ideal for use in mirrors. It is also the best conductor of heat and electricity, which makes it essential for many electrical and electronic devices.

In addition to its practical uses, silver is also important in many scientific fields, including chemistry, biology, and medicine. For example, silver ions have antimicrobial properties, which makes them useful for preventing the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms.

Ten Interesting & Fun Facts About Silver

  1. Silver’s symbol, Ag, is derived from the Latin word Argentum. This word comes from the Proto-Indo-European word meaning shiny and white.
  2. Silver is one of the seven metals of antiquity. Metals of antiquity were identified and used in prehistoric times. The other six include gold, copper, tin, lead, iron, and mercury.
  3. Alchemist’s considered silver a noble metal along with gold because of its inability to react with air. Alchemists call it “lunar” because its shiny color is associated with the moon and lunar goddesses.
  4. Silver has powers in folklore including being an effective type of bullet to kill monsters such as werewolves, detecting poison, and allowing passage into the realm of the fae.
  5. Silver symbolizes greed in some cultures.
  6. Pure silver is an approved food coloring in the European Union.
  7. A harmless and tasteless layer of silver called “varak” decorated South Asian food.
  8. Old mirrors used silver. Silver tarnishes, so aluminum replaced silver in mirrors.
  9. Though silver is not toxic, it can cause Argyria. Argyria is a skin condition resulting from too much silver absorption. It causes grey skin and mucous.
  10. There is no word in the English language that rhymes with silver.

Silver in the Periodic Table

Silver, atomic symbol Ag, has an atomic number of 47, and lies in group 11, on the periodic table, below copper and to the left of cadmium. This element has only one valence electron. This makes it likely to lose the electrons to form a +1 ion. 

Silver has an electronegativity of 1.93 (Pauling Scale). Silver’s electron configuration is [Kr] 4d10 5s1. Other elements in group 11 include copper and gold. Silver shares similar properties with its group.

Gelatin Silver Process

Traditional black-and-white photography and analog photography used the gelatin silver process. Gelatin suspends silver salts on glass or coated paper. Silver halides are sensitive to light and will produce a latent image when exposed to a negative. A developing agent makes the image visible and a photographic fixer removes the still light-sensitive silver halides to make the image permanent. Richard Maddox introduced this process in 1871 and Charles Bennet improved upon it in 1878. Biology uses an identical process to picture DNA after gel electrophoresis.

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is a silver alloy that is 92.5% silver. Fine silver (99.9% silver) is too soft, so sterling silver often contains other metals such as copper to increase hardness. Adding other elements such as germanium, zinc, platinum, silicon, and boron to silver alloys can reduce tarnishing.

Sterling silver originated in Germany in the 12th century. Colonial America used silver for goods in the currency as well. Silversmiths of the era worked mostly with silver to create items such as buckles and coffee pots. They would stamp their work with a personalized maker’s mark. Often silversmiths would forge ingots into desired shapes by hammering sheets of silver. Paul Revere was one of the best silversmiths. Learn about his work here.

Cutlery such as forks, spoons, and knives use sterling silver. Ivory decorated sterling silver cutlery during the Victorian period. Types of sterling silver cutlery included carving knives, salad forks, cold meat forks, ladles, berry spoons, cheese spoons, etc. Tea sets, pots, trays, goblets, saucers, cups, pitchers, coasters, and napkin rings use sterling silver. Paper clips, mechanical pencils, perfume bottles, hair clips, medical instruments, musical instruments, and jewelry also use sterling silver.

silver element - periodic table
Silver Bowl (from Wikimedia Commons)

Silver’s Applications in Today’s World

What is Silver Used For?


Lydia in Asia Minor used the first silver coins in the 7th century BC. These coins are made of a silver and gold alloy called electrum. Currencies such as the Greek drachma, the Roman denarius, and the Rupee of the Mughal Empire used silver. Ancient Egyptians valued silver higher than gold, though gold can be up to 75 times more expensive than silver. King Henry II coined the first silver coin in England in 1158. The U.S. minted coins that were 90% silver until 1965. The amount of silver in American currency has dropped over time due to silver being used faster than produced. Silver has been used for money so much that in over 10 languages “silver” and “money” are the same word.


Fine or pure silver jewelry is labeled as .999 or FS. As the purest form of silver, it is easily scratched and loses shape over time. This type of silver is best for jewelry that doesn’t come into contact with objects. Sterling silver is the most common alloy used in jewelry because of its combination of desired luster and durability. It is labeled with .925, STG, or STER. Plating sterling silver with rhodium can prevent scratching and tarnish. Other types of silver used for jewelry include Argentium silver and coin silver. 

Silver jewelry is plated or filled. Silver-plated jewelry is lower quality and only coated with a layer of silver. Filled silver is more durable, but is not hypoallergenic and tarnishes easier. Filled silver jewelry must have layers of metals with 5-10% real silver.


Silver is in wound dressing to treat infections. It can reduce infections in urinary catheters and breathing tubes. Silver ions interfere with enzymes in bacteria, so silver nanoparticles are used for industrial and healthcare purposes. Cranial surgery and dental cavity prevention use silver alloys to replace bone. Silver also has antibacterial properties that make it useful for the silver-plating of cutlery. Copper reduces softness in silver alloys.

Other Uses
  • Conductor in electronics
  • Brazing alloys
  • Chemical equipment
  • A catalyst for oxidation reactions
  • Traditional photography
  • Western flutes and other musical instruments

Where Is Silver Found?

Silver is in alloys with gold or other metals and in copper, sulfide, lead, and zinc ores. The top silver mining countries are Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, China, Australia, Chile, Poland, and Serbia. The largest silver deposits are in Tajikistan and Mexico is the top producer.

When and How Was Silver Discovered?

People in Anatolia (modern Turkey) in 4000 BCE discovered silver. The center of silver production moved from Athens, Greece to Spain to supply the Roman Empire and trade along spice routes. The Spanish conquest of the Americas increased silver production dramatically and mining spread across countries.

Silver Chemistry – Compounds, Reactions, Oxidation States, Isolation

Chemical Properties of Silver Element

All three metals in Group 11 have a single electron in the s shell over the full d shell. This full d shell isn’t effective in shielding electrostatic forces from the nucleus to the valence electron. This makes it mostly unreactive. Over time, silver can tarnish, form silver chloride by reacting to salt water, or react with nitrate ions and oxygen.

Silver Compounds

Silver Sulfide (Ag2S)

As the only silver sulfide, this black solid is a photosensitizer in photography. Silver sulfide forms as the tarnish on silverware.

Silver Chloride (AgCl)

This white crystalline compound occurs in the mineral chlorargyrite. It has low solubility and separates into silver and chlorine when heated. Colorless silver nitrate and sodium chloride react to form silver as a white precipitate. This reaction detects chloride in a solution. Electrochemistry, pottery glazes, and photography use silver chloride. It is an antidote for mercury poisoning. Silver chloride’s antimicrobial properties make it useful in deodorant and water preservation.

Silver Bromide (AgBr)

Found in the mineral bromargyrite, silver bromide is a pale yellow salt. It is sensitive to light which makes it useful for photographic films.

Silver Iodide (AgI)

Photography uses silver iodide because it is photosensitive. It is bright yellow and an antiseptic in cloud seeding. Cloud seeding causes clouds to produce rain to control hurricanes.

Silver Fulminate (AgCNO)

This compound is highly explosive and extremely sensitive. Even a drop of water or falling feather can detonate silver fulminate. The compound self-detonates in large quantities. Children’s noisemakers use silver fulminate.

Isolation of Silver

Copper, lead, and zinc refining produces 2/3 of all silver as a byproduct. The Parkes process collects metals like silver and gold when copper is purified. In the lab, dipping copper metal into a silver nitrate solution forms silver and a blue solution of copper nitrate.

Silver Oxidation States

The most common oxidation state is +1 when silver loses its valence electron. Other oxidations include +2 and the rare +3 state requiring strong oxidizing agents such as fluorine.

Physical Properties of Silver

Silver is soft, ductile, and malleable. It has a high density which makes it hard to produce fake silver.

  • Symbol: Ag
  • Melting point: 961.78°C
  • Boiling point: 2162°C
  • Density (g cm−3): 10.49
  • Atomic mass: 107.87
  • Atomic number: 47
  • Electronegativity (Pauling Scale): 1.93
  • Classification: Transition Metal, Group 11
  • Crustal abundance (ppm): 0.08
  • Electron configuration: [Kr] 4d10 5s1
  • Key Isotopes: 105Ag, 106Ag, 108Ag, 109Ag, 110Ag, 111Ag
  • Found naturally in the minerals: Argentite, Chloragyrite
  • Toxicity: Low, except for silver salts

Where Can I Buy Elemental Silver?

Silver can be purchased online through websites such as SD Bullion. Currently, silver cost $20.77 per ounce.