Who Discovered Aluminum?

Sir Humphry Davy, an English chemist, discovered aluminum in 1808. Aluminum is a naturally occurring substance thus can’t be invented but only discovered. Although Humphry Davy was the first person to discover aluminum it took another 17 years before it could be produced in relatively pure form. A Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted made anhydrous (dried) aluminum chloride react with potassium amalgam; the reactants yielded a lump of a shiny metal – aluminum. There is another version to the story too. A group of historians claim it was not aluminum but potassium or something else. These historians attribute Friedrich Wöhler, a German chemist, as the first person who extracted aluminum in its pure form in 1827. Most of the history books also credit Friedrich Wöhler with the discovery of the metal.

Sir Humphry DavyThe name ‘aluminium’ was coined by Sir Humphry Davy himself. Aluminium is the third most abundant element on Earth, preceded by only oxygen and silica. Its atomic number is 13 and its atomic weight is 26.98u (u = atomic mass unit). It is a reactive element thus it is commonly not found in native (pure) form. The North Americans prefer using the spelling ‘aluminum’ when referring to ‘aluminium’ and both the variants have been approved by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). Aluminium is a non-ferrous metal and it is used to make hulls of airplanes, engines, heat sinks, cans etc. Aluminium oxide is an antacid and it is also used to purify water. Near about 40 million tonnes of aluminium is produced per year worldwide but the same metal was so rare in around 300-400 years ago that Napoleon Bonaparte reserved dinner plates made of aluminium for only the honored guests.

Category: Chemistry, Science

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