If you have ever heard of the differences between metals and nonmetals, you might be a little confused with these distinctions. Most people understand what metal is. If you have ever done welding before or played as a child on a swing with metal chains, we are constantly introduced to metal in our everyday lives. Nonmetals, on the other hand, are very different. These are simply elements that lack the attributes common to things that are metallic. The easiest place to begin looking at both metals and nonmetals is on the periodic chart, looking at the many different elements that have been discovered and defined. Here is a quick overview of the difference between the two using this simple explanation.
Why Understanding This Is Important
Before the modern periodic chart was created, allowing us to advance as we have in science, these differentiations between metals and nonmetals were simply not known. Our view of the world from the atomic level could not be understood until these distinctions were made, and once they were, we were able to advance in science as we have. This can get very complex, but there are actually very simple ways of understanding the differences between metals and nonmetals. Let’s begin with metals, move into nonmetals, and then finish up with few other distinctions.
What Are Metals?
When you look at the periodic chart, most of the elements that are metals can be found from the left, encompassing nearly all of the elements until reaching the far right. These have very distinctive properties, consisting of alkaline earth, transition metals, and alkali metals. They are very easy to recognize because they are solid at a room temperature. The only exception to this is the metal Mercury which is a liquid. They are typically very shiny with a very high melting point, and can also be a very good conductor of heat. They are used in electronic instruments because they are good conductors of electricity, forming the wires and different components that are used in these devices. They have a very low ionization energy level, are malleable, ductile, and can lose electrons during chemical reactions. Some of the most common ones include magnesium, aluminum, sodium, potassium, calcium, nickel, and copper.
What Are Nonmetals?
The remaining elements on the periodic table that are not metals are referred to as metals, with the exception of just a few other elements on the chart. They are found on the right-hand side of the periodic table, and they have very different chemical properties when compared to metals. For instance, they are not very shiny at all, and very poor conductors of heat. They are also very poor at conducting electricity. They are typically very brittle with a lower density, particularly when compared to metals, and they have a very low melting point. Nonmetals include hydrogen, helium, sulfur, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen to name a few. Most of these are gases at room temperature, thus providing one final distinction from the physical solid metals that have already been discussed.
Different Categories Of Nonmetals
One other thing that should be mentioned is that there are different categories of nonmetals which differ in regard to valence electrons. They are unique in that the outer valence shell can maintain a very stable configuration, something referred to as a stable noble gas configuration. This will include polyatomic nonmetals such as sulfur, carbon, phosphorus, and selenium. There are diatomic nonmetals which include fluorine, oxygen, nitrogen, and iodine. There are noble gases which include xenon, krypton, Argon, and neon. These distinctions are only important to those that work with chemicals regularly when they are trying to achieve a certain chemical reaction. It’s also good to know if you are trying to understand how different components of our world fit together, and how elements play a role in the things that we experience every day.
Now that you know the difference between metals and nonmetals, this could be beneficial for many reasons. It could be that you are taking a chemistry class, and you needed to understand the distinctions. This is also helpful if you are in a profession where you are using chemicals on a regular basis. In a general sense, it’s good to know these distinctions when people are discussing interactions between nonmetals like hydrogen with metals such as chromium, allowing you to see the difference.