Nickel is a chemical element with the atomic number 28 in the periodic table. It’s found in Earth’s crust with an abundance of 84 parts per million by weight. Being a member of the transition metals family of the periodic table, this divalent silvery-white metallic element has strong corrosion resistance and moderately strong ferromagnetic properties.
Chemical and Physical Properties of Nickel
|The symbol in the periodic table of elements||Ni|
|Atomic weight (mass)||58.6934 g.mol-1|
|Group number||10 (Transition metals)|
|Color||A silvery-white metal|
|Physical state||Solid at 20°C|
|Half-life||From 10 milliseconds [>500 nanoseconds] to 100.1 years|
|Electronegativity according to Pauling||1.91|
|Melting point||1728°C, 2651°F, 1728 K|
|Boiling point||3193°C, 5275°F, 3193 K|
|Van der Waals radius||163 pm|
|Ionic radius||0.69 (+2) Å|
|Most characteristic isotope||58Ni|
|Electronic shell||[Ar] 3d8 4s2|
|Crystal Structure||Cubic: Face centered|
|Covalent Radius||1.15 Å|
|Atomic Radius||1.62 Å|
|Atomic Volume||06.59 cm³/mol|
|Uses||Used in electroplating and metal alloys because of its resistance to corrosion. Also in nickel-cadmium batteries; as a catalyst and for coins.|
|Description||Malleable, ductile, reddish-brown metal.|
|Name Origin||German: kupfernickel (false copper).|
|Discovery date||1751 by Axel Cronstedt|
With the periodic table symbol Ni, atomic number 28, atomic mass of 58.693 g.mol-1, and electron configuration [Ar]3d84s2, nickel is a hard and ductile metal with a silvery-white color. It reaches its boiling point at 2913°C, 5275°F, 3186 K, while the melting point is achieved at 1455°C, 2651°F, 1728 K. This member of the transition metals group in the periodic table has an electronegativity of 1.91 according to Pauling, whereas the atomic radius according to van der Waals is 163 pm.
Resembling the properties of its periodic table neighbors – iron and cobalt – the nickel metal also possesses strong magnetic and anti-corrosive properties. Namely, it’s ferromagnetic at room temperature and resists corrosion even at high temperatures.
How Was Nickel Discovered?
Since nickel has been brought to Earth by the meteorites, we can freely say that this chemical element has been around for ages. The first evidence of this silvery metal with a slightly golden tinge dates from 200 BC. Namely, a zinc-nickel alloy called ‘pai-t’ung’ (white copper) has been widely used in ancient China for manufacturing various artifacts that did not rust. For the Peruvians, nickel was “a type of silver”.
Some sources claim even earlier use of nickel by the ancient civilizations. According to a survey published by the American Journal of Archeology, nickel beads have been found in graves located in Egypt, believed to have been made from metallic meteorites.
During the 1600s, a copper-resembling dark red ore was traced by copper miners in Saxony, Germany. Due to their inability to isolate the metal substance from the ore, the miners thought that those types of ores were possessed by the goblin that made it hard for them to obtain the metal. Due to this, they labeled the substance “kupfernickel”, i.e. “goblin’s copper”.
The Discovery of Axel Fredrik Cronstedt
In 1751, the Swedish mineralogist and chemist Axel Fredrik Cronstedt (1722 – 1765) focused his chemical investigations on a new mineral sample obtained from a mine in Los, Hälsingland, Sweden. It was the same type of ore that puzzled the copper miners from Saxony – the “kupfernickel” (i.e. nickel arsenide, NiAs). Due to the reddish-golden streak in the ore, Cronstedt believed that there really might be some copper in the compound.
After conducting numerous chemical experiments, Cronstedt observed that the new substance has strong magnetic properties which did not correspond to the weak magnetic strength of copper. This led him to the conclusion that he had discovered a new chemical element.
The Contribution of Torbern Bergman
The pure, elemental form of nickel was isolated in 1775 by the Swedish mineralogist and chemist Torbern Bergman (1735 – 1784). Namely, Bergman was the first scientist who succeeded in isolating the pure nickel metal from what other scientists thought was an alloy of cobalt, arsenic, iron, and copper. By this, he also confirmed the chemical properties of the new element, which classified element 28 as a new member of Mendeleev’s periodic table.
How Did Nickel Get Its Name?
Cronstedt himself named the newly discovered element ‘nickel’, which is short from the term ‘kupfernickel’ – the ore from which he succeeded to obtain the new substance.
Where Can You Find Nickel?
Hundreds of millions of years ago, our planet has been ‘showered’ with meteors containing iron. According to Washington University at St. Louis, almost 95% of the meteors have been composed of the iron-nickel (FeNi) metal compound. Nowadays, this chemical element naturally occurs in air, soil, and waters. It’s an essential trace element for some animals and plants, while our body requires an extremely small quantity of it.
Classified as a transition metal, this chemical is most often obtained from iron/nickel sulfides, such as pentlandite, garnierite, and nickeliferous limonite. For commercial purposes, the nickel carbonyl process is used to purify nickel extracted from nickel ores, such as laterites and magmatic sulfide deposits.
Since nickel mainly occurs in Earth’s iron-nickel core, it’s relatively inaccessible. The organic substances that also occur in the deeper layer of Earth, such as oil and coal, absorb nickel in large amounts. Element 28 can be frequently traced along with sulphur and arsenic in nickel glance, with arsenic in niccolite, and with sulphur in millerite. The largest nickel-mining areas in the world are located in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Cuba, Indonesia, New Caledonia in the Pacific, and Russia.
List of Nickel Minerals
The following is a list presenting the wide range of minerals in which the naturally occurring nickel can be traced:
- Cooperite (mineral);
The Use of Nickel in Everyday Life
Nickel is the first material of choice for many industries, mainly because of its ferromagnetic and anti-corrosive properties. The automotive, electronic, and construction industries make wide use of nickel as a means of insulation and protection. The other nickel applications in the everyday life are given in the following instances:
- Displaying strong anti-corrosive properties, nickel is used for electroplating of other metals, as well as for making metal alloys, such as alloys such as stainless steel, electronic and heat resistance alloys, new superalloys, nickel cast irons, nickel-steels, nickel bronzes and brasses, nickel clad, malleable nickel, etc. In addition, nickel alloys are used as catalysts for different hydrogenation reactions. Almost 9% of the world’s nickel production is nowadays used for corrosion-resistant nickel plating;
- This transition metal is also used in the manufacturing of rechargeable batteries, including the rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries and nickel-metal hydride batteries which are used in hybrid vehicles;
- Due to its chemical and physical properties, nickel is the metal of choice for minting coins;
- Monel is extremely corrosion-resistant steel that contains 60 – 70 percent nickel, 30 – 40 percent copper, as well as traces of other metals such as iron.
- When added to glass, nickel colors it in green;
- The wide range of consumer and commercial products that use nickel in the manufacturing process include coinage, electric guitar strings, microphone capsules, rocket engines, and gas turbines.
- Before the strongest permanent magnets of modern time had been invented, such as the neodymium-iron-boron magnets, the alnico magnets were used. This type of magnet is of intermediate strength and is made of a nickel alloy, which mainly comprises aluminum, nickel, cobalt, and iron;
- A copper-nickel alloy is used in desalination plants. By this process, the seawater is converted into freshwater;
- The high-nickel Inconel superalloys are materials resistant to both oxidation and corrosion. They are a substance of choice for making items that are to be used in extreme environments, as well as exposed to pressure and heat;
- Nickel mesh and nickel foam are applied in the production process of gas diffusion electrodes.
Nickel and Health
The human body needs minuscule amounts of nickel as a trace element. Most of the food we consume contains some amount of nickel since this element can be naturally found in soil, air, and waters. For this reason, plant-based food tends to contain higher amounts of nickel than meat.
Prolonged skin contact with nickel or occupational exposure to this chemical may trigger a nickel allergy if accumulated in high levels in the body. This adverse health effect is characterized by an itchy rash from jewelry made with nickel, for example, or from contact with coins, zippers, cellphones, etc.
Nickel allergy can often be triggered by a high uptake of foods rich in this trace mineral or drinking water. The list of foods containing high nickel concentrations include:
- Whole wheat;
- Corn flour;
- Baking powder;
- Sunflower seeds;
- Raw carrots;
- Whole grain;
- Red wine;
- Soy products;
- Red kidney beans;
- Soya beans;
- Dried fruits;
- Strong licorice;
- Canned foods (the tin contains nickel that is absorbed by the food from the can).
What Are the Symptoms of Nickel Allergy?
Apart from the most common symptoms of nickel allergy, such as skin rash and itching (allergic contact dermatitis), the affected individual may also experience the following symptoms:
- Severe itching and widespread rash;
- Bumps on the skin;
- Dry skin patches resembling a skin burn;
- Painful blisters;
- Pus in the affected area.
How Dangerous Is Nickel?
According to the National Cancer Institute, nickel compounds have been classified as carcinogenic substances. Nickel exposure can occur by smoking cigarettes, consumption of food, and drinking water containing high nickel concentrations, as well as by inhalation of nickel-contaminated air or nickel dust. Nickel and nickel compounds are also labeled as skin sensitizers, meaning they can lead to skin irritation, eczema, as well as to allergic contact dermatitis.
According to NIOSH, the refinery workers in nickel processing plants, jewelry and pawnshop workers, as well as the workers who come into contact with nickel releasing surfaces are in the greatest danger of acquiring nickel allergy as an occupational disease. The prolonged exposure or high uptake of this chemical element in all its forms may also increase the risk of cancer in these workers.
What Are the Symptoms of Nickel Toxicity (Poisoning)?
The toxicity of this heavy metal may cause severe nickel poisoning, typically manifesting as:
- Disturbance of the sleeping pattern;
- Chest pain;
- Lungs damage;
- Pulmonary inflammation;
- Irregular heartbeat;
- Dry cough.
While the aforementioned symptoms are similar to the way pneumonia manifests, nickel poisoning may quickly lead to fatal consequences.
Environmental Effects of Nickel
Nickel can enter the atmosphere from the exhaust gasses and waste of the refining plants, as well as from power plants by coal or oil-burning. Once the nickel particles are released into the air, they attach to the dust particles that are already in the air. After some time, the nickel dust falls to the ground by itself or mixed with precipitation. In this way, nickel enters and contaminates both the soil and the surface waters.
Isotopes of Nickel
There are 32 isotopes of nickel, with atomic mass ranging from 48Ni to 80Ni. The naturally occurring nickel is made up of five stable isotopes: nickel-58, nickel-60, nickel-61, nickel-62, and nickel-64. With 68.077% of natural abundance, nickel-58 is the most abundant form of this chemical element.
Among the 26 radioactive isotopes that have been identified so far, the 63Ni form has the longest half-life (100.1 years).
|Z||N||Isotopic mass (Da)
[n 2][n 3]
|Natural abundance (mole fraction)|
|Excitation energy||Normal proportion||Range of variation|
|28||24||51.97568(9)#||38(5) ms||β+ (83%)||52Co||0+|
|β+, p (17%)||51Fe|
|28||25||52.96847(17)#||45(15) ms||β+ (55%)||53Co||(7/2−)#|
|β+, p (45%)||52Fe|
|28||30||57.9353429(7)||Observationally stable[n 8]||0+||0.680769(89)|
|28||31||58.9343467(7)||7.6(5)×104 y||EC (99%)||59
|28||44||71.94209(47)||1.57(5) s||β− (>99.9%)||72
|β−, n (<.1%)||71
|28||45||72.94647(32)#||0.84(3) s||β− (>99.9%)||73
|β−, n (<.1%)||72
|28||46||73.94807(43)#||0.68(18) s||β− (>99.9%)||74
|β−, n (<.1%)||73
|28||47||74.95287(43)#||0.6(2) s||β− (98.4%)||75
|β−, n (1.6%)||74
|β−, n (<.1%)||75
|28||51||78.970400(640)#||43.0 ms +86-75||β−||79
|28||52||78.970400(640)#||24 ms +26-17||β−||80
List of Nickel Compounds
When nickel becomes a part of a chemical compound, it typically adopts the oxidation state of +2. As a result of the extreme similarity between the ionic radii of the cations, many nickel salts nickel(II) are isomorphous with the magnesium salts. All nickel compounds (especially the salts) are highly toxic.
The list of most common compounds includes the following chemicals:
- Dinickel boride
- Iron–nickel clusters
- Lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxides
- Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides
- Magnesium nickel hydride
- Nickel aluminide
- Nickel boride catalyst
- Nickel double salts
- Nickel hydrazine nitrate
- Nickel manganese oxide
- Nickel monosilicide
- Nickel organic acid salts
- Nickel oxide hydroxide
- Nickel oxyacid salts
- Nickel selenide
- Nickel silicide
- Nickel succinate
- Nickel sulfide
- Nickel superoxide dismutase
- Nickel ternary chalcogenides
- Nickel tetracarbonyl
- Nickel(II) acetate
- Nickel(II) bromide
- Nickel(II) carbonate
- Nickel(II) chloride
- Nickel(II) chromate
- Nickel(II) cyanide
- Nickel(II) fluoride
- Nickel(II) hydroxide
- Nickel(II) iodide
- Nickel(II) nitrate
- Nickel(II) nitrite
- Nickel(II) oxide
- Nickel(II) phosphate
- Nickel(II) precatalysts
- Nickel(II) sulfate
- Nickel(II) thiocyanate
- Nickel(II) titanate
- Nickel(III) oxide
- Titanium yellow
- Trinickel boride
- Cyclopentadienyl nickel nitrosyl
- Nickel bis(dimethyldithiocarbamate)
- Nickel bis(dimethylglyoximate)
- Nickel(II) bis(acetylacetonate)
- Potassium hexafluoronickelate(IV)
5 Interesting Facts and Explanations
- Titanium yellow is an inorganic nickel compound that can also be found under the names: nickel antimony titanium yellow, nickel antimony titanium yellow rutile, CI Pigment Yellow 53, or C.I. This nickel compound is famously used in art painting (as a component of the yellow tinted oil color), for plastics and ceramic glazes, etc.
- An intake of foods containing high amounts of nickel may lead to some of the worst allergic reactions since this substance is one of the strongest allergens. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 10 to 20 percent of the world’s population is allergic to nickel. Also, once you develop an allergy to nickel, the chances are that you’ll always be allergic to it, unfortunately. In such cases, any contact with items containing nickel must be avoided or food rich in this trace mineral (ex. Earrings, bracelets, necklaces, eyeglasses frame, watchbands, medical devices, belt buckles, chocolate, cigarette smoking, etc).
- Despite nickel being the 5th most abundant element on Earth, this chemical element is ranked as the 22nd most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.
- The United States five-cent piece (a nickel coin which is also conveniently known as a ‘nickel’) is made of 25% nickel and 75% copper. The person on the 5-cent coin is Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the United States.
- Together with gadolinium, cobalt, and iron, nickel is one of the four chemical elements that possess strong magnetic properties when exposed to a near or at room temperature.