Minerals

Copper



Mineral Properties and Uses


Copper: Copper from Bisbee, Arizona. This specimen is approximately 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) across.

What is Copper?

Native copper is an element and a mineral. It is found in the oxidized zones of copper deposits; in hydrothermal veins; in the cavities of basalt that have been in contact with hydrothermal solutions; and as pore fillings and replacements in conglomerates that have been in contact with hydrothermal solutions. It is rarely found in large quantities, thus it is seldom the primary target of a mining operation. Most copper produced is extracted from sulfide deposits.

Chalcopyrite is the most important ore of copper.

Uses of Copper

Native copper was probably one of the early metals worked by ancient people. Nuggets of the metal could be found in streams in a few areas, and its properties allowed it to be easily worked without a required processing step. Today most copper is produced from sulfide ores.

Copper is an excellent conductor of electricity. Most copper mined today is used to conduct electricity - mostly as wiring. It is also an excellent conductor of heat and is used in cooking utensils, heat sinks, and heat exchangers. Large amounts are also used to make alloys such as brass (copper and zinc) and bronze (copper, tin, and zinc). Copper is also alloyed with precious metals such as gold and silver. Copper has many other uses.

The best way to learn about minerals is to study with a collection of small specimens that you can handle, examine, and observe their properties. Inexpensive mineral collections are available in the Store.

Physical Properties of Copper

Chemical ClassificationNative element
ColorCopper red on a fresh surface, dull brown on a tarnished surface
StreakMetallic copper red
LusterMetallic
DiaphaneityOpaque
CleavageNone
Mohs Hardness2.5 to 3
Specific Gravity8.9
Diagnostic PropertiesColor, luster, specific gravity, malleability, ductility
Chemical CompositionCopper, Cu
Crystal SystemIsometric
UsesConducts electricity and heat; wiring, electrical contacts and circuits; coinage, alloys