An element is a substance that you can't break down further, whether through a chemical or physical process. More than 100 elements exist on the periodic table. Aluminium appears as the 13th element. Divided into categories on the periodic table, elements contain characteristics such as metals, nonmetals, inert gases, lanthanides and actinides. Inert gases include helium and radon. Lanthanides and actinides refer to rare earth minerals such as uranium.
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The earth's crust contains nearly 8 per cent of aluminium. This makes aluminium the most widespread element used. Aluminium doesn't occur naturally in metal form. When you find aluminium, it will exist in soil or rocks. You can find most sources of aluminium in the rock bauxite. Bauxite consists of various forms of minerals that contain aluminium oxides. An oxide will contain oxygen and other elements. You can also find aluminium in clays, granite and other minerals.
In 1807, Sir Humphry Davy discovered aluminium. Though scientists knew what aluminium was, they didn't know what purpose the element had. In the 1820s, scientists managed to understand how to isolate aluminium from mineral sources. By the 1880s, scientists discovered that aluminium had valuable purposes within the home and for industrial applications.
Aluminium appears as a silvery metal. In its natural state, the element appears weak, soft and three times denser than water. Yet, when you combine aluminium with other elements such as iron, copper or zinc, you can create a stronger and more durable material. Aluminium can resist corrosion due to the element's oxidation.
When combined with other elements, aluminium can create products such as aluminium cans, cooking ware and packaging. You can also use aluminium for building planes and ships. Other uses for aluminium include wiring for your electricity and coating telescope mirrors. Space shuttles use foam created from molten aluminium, thickened with an aluminum oxide. Aluminium can also create new products through recycling.
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