Nickel: the essentials

Nickel is found as a constituent in most meteorites and often serves as one of the criteria for distinguishing a meteorite from other minerals. Iron meteorites, or siderites, may contain iron alloyed with from 5 to nearly 20% nickel. The USA 5-cent coin (whose nickname is "nickel") contains just 25% nickel. Nickel is a silvery white metal that takes on a high polish. It is hard, malleable, ductile, somewhat ferromagnetic, and a fair conductor of heat and electricity.

Nickel carbonyl, [Ni(CO)4], is an extremely toxic gas and exposure should not exceed 0.007 mg M-3.

nickel foil
Nickel foil.

Science and Ink cartoon for nickel
Cartoon by Nick D Kim ([Science and Ink], used by permission).

Nickel: historical information

Nickel was discovered by Axel Fredrik Cronstedt in 1751 at Sweden. Origin of name: from the German word "kupfernickel" meaning Devil's copper or St Nicholas's (OLd Nick's) copper.

Minerals containing nickel were of value for colouring glass green. The mineral used for colouring glass was called kupfernickel (false copper). Nickel was discovered by Baron Axel Frederik Cronstedt in 1751 in a mineral called niccolite. Apparently, he had expected to extract copper from this mineral but got none at all, obtaining instead a white metal that he called nickel after the mineral from which it was extracted.

Nickel around us Read more »

Nickel is an essential trace element for many species. Chicks and rats raised on nickel-deficient diets have liver problems. Enzymes known as hydrogenases in bacteria contain nickel. Nickel is also important in plant ureases.

Iron meteorites, or siderites, may contain iron alloyed with from 5 to nearly 20% nickel. There is a large iron-nickel alloy deposit in Greenland. Nickel is obtained commercially from pentlandite and pyrrhotite from Canada.

Abundances for nickel in a number of different environments. More abundance data »
Location ppb by weight ppb by atoms Links
Universe 60000 1000 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the universe on a miniature periodic table spark table
Crustal rocks 90000 32000 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the earth's crust on a miniature periodic table spark table
Human 100 ppb by weight 11 atoms relative to C = 1000000 Chemical elements abundance by weight in humans on a miniature periodic table spark table

Physical properties Read more »

Heat properties Read more »

Crystal structure Read more »

The solid state structure of nickel is: ccp (cubic close-packed).

Nickel: orbital properties Read more »

Nickel atoms have 28 electrons and the shell structure is The ground state electronic configuration of neutral Nickel is [Ar].3d8.4s2 and the term symbol of Nickel is 3F4.


Isolation: it is not normally necessary to make nickel in the laboratory as it is available readily commercially. Small amounts of pure nickel can be islated in the laborotory through the purification of crude nickel with carbon monoxide. The intermediate in this process is the highly toxic nickel tetracarbonyl, Ni(CO)4. The carbonyl decomposes on heating to about 250°C to form pure nickel powder.

Ni + 4CO (50°C) → Ni(CO)4 (230°C) → Ni + 4CO

The Ni(CO)4 is a volatile complex which is easily flushed from the reaction vessel as a gas leaving the impurities behind. Industrially, the Mond process uses the same chemistry. Nickel oxides are reacted with "water gas", a mixture of CO + H2). Reduction of the oxide with the hydrogen results in impure nickel. This reacts with the CO component of the water gas to make Ni(CO)4 as above. Thermal decomposition leaves pure nickel metal.

Nickel isotopes Read more »

Nickel isotopes are used for the production of several radioisotopes. Ni-64 is used for the production of Cu-64 which is used in radioimmunotherapy. Ni-61 can be used for the production of the PET radioisotope Cu-61. Ni-62 is used for the production of the radioisotope Ni-63 which can be used as an XRF source, as an electron capture source in gas chromatographs and as a power source in microelectromechanical systems. Ni-58 can be used for the production of the radioisotope Co-58. Ni-60 is used for the production of Co-57 which is used in bone densitometry and as a gamma camera reference source. Ni-60 is also used as an alternative for the production of Cu-61, but the route via Ni-61 is more common. Finally, most stable Nickel isotopes have been used to study human absorption of Nickel.

Table. Stables isotopes of nickel.
Isotope Mass
(atom %)
spin (I)
moment (μ/μN)
58Ni 57.9353462 (16) 68.0769 (89) 0
60Ni 59.9307884 (16) 26.2231 (77) 0
61Ni 60.9310579 (16) 1.1399 (6) 3/2 -0.75002
62Ni 61.9283461 (16) 3.6345 (17) 0
64Ni 63.9279679 (17) 0.9256 (9) 0

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