Facts About Mercury (Element Hg)

Mercury (element)
Mercury (element)
Credit: Andrei Marincas | Shutterstock

Atomic Number: 80
Atomic Symbol: Hg
Atomic Weight: 200.59
Melting Point: -37.8 F (-38.83 C)
Boiling Point: 674.11 F (356.73 C)

Word origin: The name comes from the Roman god Mercury, the speedy messenger of the gods. It is also associated with the planet Mercury, which speeds around the sun. The symbol Hg comes from its Greek name, hydrargyrum, meaning liquid silver. It is also known as quicksilver.

Discovery: Mercury was known and used by ancient chemists throughout the world. Evidence of its use has been found in China, India and ancient Egypt.

Properties of mercury

Mercury remains liquid at room temperatures. It is a silvery white, heavy element that alloys very well with other metals. These alloys are called amalgams. Mercury is a fair conductor of electricity but a poor conductor of heat. [See Periodic Table of the Elements]

Metallic mercury can be extremely harmful to humans. The element can enter the body through an open wound and when inhaled or ingested. It can cause nerve, liver and kidney damage along with a host of other symptoms.

Sources of mercury

Mercury is a naturally occurring element found by heating cinnabar and then condensing the vapors. Spain and Italy produce about 50 percent of the world's supply of the metal.

Uses of mercury

Mercury is used in making thermometers, barometers, diffusion pumps and in some electric gear. Some types of consumer products, such as batteries and fluorescent lighting, still use mercury.

It is also used in mercury-vapor lamps, caustic soda and chlorine production, dental preparations, anti-fouling paint, catalysts and in pesticides.

Some useful mercury salts are mercury fulminate — Hg(ONC)2 — a detonator used in explosives, and mercuric sulphide (HgS), used as a high-grade paint pigment.

(Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

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