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. Aluminum 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.
The earth's crust contains nearly 8 percent of aluminum. This makes aluminum the most widespread element used. Aluminum doesn't occur naturally in metal form. When you find aluminum, it will exist in soil or rocks. You can find most sources of aluminum in the rock bauxite. Bauxite consists of various forms of minerals that contain aluminum oxides. An oxide will contain oxygen and other elements. You can also find aluminum in clays, granite and other minerals.
In 1807, Sir Humphry Davy discovered aluminum. Though scientists knew what aluminum was, they didn't know what purpose the element had. In the 1820s, scientists managed to understand how to isolate aluminum from mineral sources. By the 1880s, scientists discovered that aluminum had valuable purposes within the home and for industrial applications.
Aluminum appears as a silvery metal. In its natural state, the element appears weak, soft and three times denser than water. Yet, when you combine aluminum with other elements such as iron, copper or zinc, you can create a stronger and more durable material. Aluminum can resist corrosion due to the element's oxidation.
When combined with other elements, aluminum can create products such as aluminum cans, cooking ware and packaging. You can also use aluminum for building planes and ships. Other uses for aluminum include wiring for your electricity and coating telescope mirrors. Space shuttles use foam created from molten aluminum, thickened with an aluminum oxide. Aluminum can also create new products through recycling.