Silver: the essentials

Silver is somewhat rare and expensive, although not as expensive as gold. Slag dumps in Asia Minor and on islands in the Aegean Sea indicate that man learned to separate silver from lead as early as 3000 B.C. Pure silver has a brilliant white metallic lustre. It is a little harder than gold and is very ductile and malleable. Pure silver has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of all metals, and possesses the lowest contact resistance. Silver iodide, AgI, is (or was?) used for causing clouds to produce rain.

Silver is stable in pure air and water, but tarnishes when exposed to ozone, hydrogen sulphide, or air containing sulphur. It occurs in ores including argentite, lead, lead-zinc, copper and gold found in Mexico, Peru, and the USA.

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

Silver: historical information

Silver was discovered by Known since ancient times in unknown at not known. Origin of name: from the Anglo-Saxon word "siolfur" meaning "silver" (the origin of the symbol Ag comes from the Latin word "argentum" meaning "silver").

Silver has been known since ancient times. It is mentioned in Genesis. Slag dumps in Asia Minor and on islands in the Aegean Sea indicate that man learned to separate silver from lead as early as 3000 B.C.

Silver is one of the elements which has an alchemical symbol, shown below (alchemy is an ancient pursuit concerned with, for instance, the transformation of other metals into gold).

{{floatR}}alchemical symbol of silver{{floatR}}

Sometime prior to the autumn of 1803, the Englishman John Dalton was able to explain the results of some of his studies by assuming that matter is composed of atoms and that all samples of any given compound consist of the same combination of these atoms. Dalton also noted that in series of compounds, the ratios of the masses of the second element that combine with a given weight of the first element can be reduced to small whole numbers (the law of multiple proportions). This was further evidence for atoms. Dalton's theory of atoms was published by Thomas Thomson in the 3rd edition of his System of Chemistry in 1807 and in a paper about strontium oxalates published in the Philosophical Transactions. Dalton published these ideas himself in the following year in the New System of Chemical Philosophy. The symbol used by Dalton for silver is shown below. [See History of Chemistry, Sir Edward Thorpe, volume 1, Watts & Co, London, 1914.]

Dalton's symbol for silver

Silver around us Read more »

Silver has no biological role.

Silver is found sometimes as the free metal as well as in ores such as argentite (silver sulphide, Ag2S). There are deposits in Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Sardinia, and the USA.

Abundances for silver in a number of different environments. More abundance data »
Location ppb by weight ppb by atoms Links
Universe 0.6 0.007 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the universe on a miniature periodic table spark table
Crustal rocks 80 20 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the earth's crust on a miniature periodic table spark table
Human (no data) ppb by weight (no data) 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 silver is: ccp (cubic close-packed).

Silver: orbital properties Read more »

Silver atoms have 47 electrons and the shell structure is The ground state electronic configuration of neutral Silver is [Kr].4d10.5s1 and the term symbol of Silver is 2S1/2.


Isolation: silver is readily available commercially so it is not normally necessary to prepare silver in the laboratory. However the formation of silver metal may be demonstrated in a satisfying reaction in which copper metal is dipped into a solution of silver nitrate, AgNO3.

Cu(s) + 2 AgNO3 (aq) → Cu(NO3)2 + 2 Ag (s)

The result is formation of often attractive silver crystals and a blue-green solution of copper nitrate. Industrially, silver is usually a byproduct of processes whose main object is the extraction of another metal such as copper, lead, and zinc. So called "anode slimes" from the electrolytic purification of copper contain silver and a somewhat involved process is finished by an electrolysis of a nitrate solution containing silver.

Silver isotopes Read more »

The two isotopes of Silver, Ag-107 and Ag-109 are used and have been proposed as precursor for the production of a number of radioisotopes. Ag-107 has been proposed for the (cyclotron) production of Pd-103, although the most common route for Pd-103 is via Rh-103 or Pd-104. Ag-109 is used for the production of Ag-110m which is used as a gamma reference source. Ag-109 can also be used for the production of In-110 (a replacement for the more commonly used In-111) and for the production of Cd-109, an 88 keV gamma reference source.

Table. Stables isotopes of silver.
Isotope Mass
(atom %)
spin (I)
moment (μ/μN)
107Ag 106.905092 (6) 51.839 (7) 1/2 -0.113570
109Ag 108.904756 (4) 48.161 (7) 1/2 -0.1306905

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