Silver is a chemical element with the atomic number 47 in the periodic table. It constitutes 0.05 part per million of Earth’s crust and ranks as the 68th most abundant chemical element. The properties of this noble metal have been known even to the ancient civilizations.
As a member of the transition metals family of elements, this relatively rare precious metal with a high economic value has one valence electron which makes element 47 a chemically inert substance.
Silver’s most popular use is for making jewelry and silverware. It also has an important application in medicine, as well as in the electrical, electronic, and photographic industries.
Chemical and Physical Properties of Silver
The symbol in the periodic table of elements: Ag
Atomic number: 47
Atomic weight (mass): 107.87 g.mol-1
Group number: 11
Period: 5 (d-block)
Color: Lustrous white-gray metal
Physical state: Solid at room temperature
Half-life: From less than 5 milliseconds [>1.5 µs] to 418(21) years
Electronegativity according to Pauling: 1.9
Density: 10.5 g.cm-3 at 20°C
Melting point: 961.78°C, 1763.2°F, 1234.93 K
Boiling point: 2162°C, 3924°F, 2435 K
Van der Waals radius: 0.144 nm
Ionic radius: 0.126 nm
Most characteristic isotope: 107Ag
Electronic shell: [Kr] 4d105s1
The energy of the first ionization: 758 kJ.mol-1
The energy of the second ionization: 2061 kJ.mol-1
Discovery date: The ancient times
With the periodic table symbol Ag, atomic number 47, atomic mass of 107.87 g.mol-1, and electron configuration [Kr] 4d105s1, silver is a soft, very ductile, malleable, and lustrous white-gray metal. It reaches its boiling point at 2162°C, 3924°F, 2435 K, while the melting point is achieved at 961.78°C, 1763.2°F, 1234.93 K.
This member of the transition metals family of elements has an electronegativity of 1.9 according to Pauling, whereas the atomic radius according to van der Waals is 0.144 nm.
Located between copper (Period 4) and gold (Period 6), silver is classified in the Period 5 of the periodic table and shares many chemical properties with its neighboring elements. Together with gold, platinum, iridium, osmium, ruthenium, and palladium, silver also belongs to the group of noble metals.
Silver metal is characterized by excellent thermal and electrical conductivity, as well as strong anti-corrosive properties. It tarnishes only when exposed to hydrogen sulfide and ozone.
How Was Silver Discovered?
Silver is one of the first metals whose chemical and physical properties were utilized by ancient civilizations. In fact, silver, gold, copper, lead, and iron are the first five metals discovered by ancient civilizations. Throughout history, this noble metal has been used as a remedy for a wide array of medical conditions. Even Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC), the father of modern medicine, has observed the beneficial properties of silver.
According to this Greek physician, silver could heal wounds and prevent various infections and diseases. It’s especially fascinating that the antimicrobial and antimicrobial properties of silver have been used prior to the discovery of antibiotics with almost equal purpose.
Throughout the millennials and different civilizations, silver was almost always second to gold in both value and rank. In Greek mythology, the first and brightest age of man was called the Golden Age. The most prosperous time in the history of the world and humanity was followed by less and less prosperous times: the Silver Age, Bronze Age, and the final technological and cultural stage in the Stone Era – the Iron Age.
How Did Silver Get Its Name?
The name of element 47 is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for silver, ‘seolfor’. In turn, this Anglo-Saxon word stems from the ancient Germanic term ‘silabar’. In the periodic table, silver is classified under the symbol Ag. This abbreviation comes from the Latin word ‘argentum’, i.e. ‘shining, white’, and refers to the physical appearance of silver.
Where Can You Find Silver?
Silver is the 65th most abundant chemical element traced in the Universe, while in the layers of our planet it occurs as the 68th most plentiful substance.
Humans have been mining silver for many millennials. The first evidence for exploitation of the natural silver resources date from around 3,000 BCE in Anatolia, now located in modern-day Turkey. Silver metal is often found together with lead in the mineral galena (mainly composed of lead sulfide).
In nature, silver mainly occurs as a compound in the copper, copper-nickel, lead, and lead-zinc ores. Element 47 typically occurs in four forms:
- Trace metal.
Depending on the geography, silver can be also traced along with gold, or mixed with quartz and ruby crystal formations. Nuggets of native silver are not such a rare sight in the river beds that run through a silver-rich location.
The richest silver mines in the United States are found in Comstock Lode mines, Nevada, which is popularly labeled as “The Silver State”. Worldwide, Mexico, Peru, and China are ranked as the top producing countries of silver.
List of Silver Minerals
The exhaustive list of silver-rich minerals includes the following items:
- Samsonite (mineral)
Silver in Everyday Life
Highly valued for its chemical properties and decorativeness, silver is commonly found in our everyday life. The wide array of its applications includes the following uses of element 47:
- Silver sulfadiazine is a compound of element 47 that has a medical application as a strong antibacterial and antifungal agent. It usually comes in a form of topical cream that is used in the treatment of skin infections that occur in areas affected by burns.
- Water tanks on ships and airplanes are usually lined with a thin layer of silver that keeps the water fresh for a long time. Namely, silver water purification filters are utilized by many national and international airlines to prevent the growth of algae and bacteria in drinking water;
- Silver electrical contacts are used in the manufacturing of keyboards;
- As an antiseptic agent, a solution of silver nitrate is applied as eye drops for the newborn babies as gonorrhea or chlamydia prevention;
- Batteries and mirrors also contain silver as one of the main components in their process of production;
- Some first aid bandages contain silver ions. Silver antimicrobial bandages prevent the growth of a broad spectrum of microbes that may trigger an infection of the covered wound;
- In dentistry, silver is used for dental fillings. Also, silver carbonate is one of the components in the cavities prevention treatments;
- The anticorrosive properties of the silver metal are also utilized in the manufacturing of endotracheal tubes, blood and urinary catheter designs, orthopedic devices, vascular prostheses, and the sewing ring of prosthetic heart valves.
Silver and Health
Before the invention of antibiotics, silver was the main antimicrobial and antiseptic agent used in medicine. The bactericidal activity of pure silver was commonly used in the treatment of skin burns to prevent wound infection, as well as to promote healing. Even after the introduction of antibiotics, topical silver is still used today as a powerful antimicrobial and antiseptic agent in post-operative incision dressings.
Colloidal silver is a liquid substance containing elemental silver that is sometimes used as an alternative therapy for various skin conditions and infections. It has been in use among people even before modern antibiotics were developed.
However, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study from 1999, this supplement does not comply with their regulations and standards. For this reason, colloidal silver is not approved as a supplement by the FDA since it’s not considered necessary or safe enough to be taken orally.
Also, its inadequate use may lead to serious side effects and severe health conditions, such as hemorrhage, argyria (blue-grey discoloration of skin, nails, and mucous membranes), pulmonary edema (fluid on the lungs caused by congestive heart failure), bone marrow suppression (lowered immunity), Hepatorenal syndrome (a life-threatening medical condition that consists of rapid deterioration in kidney function), etc.
Important: Please note that this colloidal silver fact sheet is for educational and informative purposes only. We strongly advise that you seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider or trained health professionals before treating any medical problems with colloidal silver supplements.
How Dangerous Is Silver?
While pure elemental silver is considered a non-toxic substance and has many beneficial properties health-wise, its compounds are highly toxic and may pose a serious health hazard. Some silver salts may even be carcinogenic.
In addition, there are silver compounds that may pose a fire and explosion hazard, such as silver fulminate. This explosive compound is exceptionally sensitive to pressure and heat.
Silver ions and silver compounds have a highly toxic effect on some bacteria, viruses, algae, and fungi that is similar to the toxicity of lead or mercury. Long-term exposure to silver metal may occur through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact. The group of people at highest risk of overexposure to this chemical element includes the miners, individuals who implement silver-based supplements in their therapy, or metal industry workers.
What Are the Symptoms of Silver Toxicity?
Inhalation of the soluble salts of silver can be lethal upon ingestion. The signaling symptoms of the toxicity of these silver compounds include:
- Respiratory problems;
- Breathing difficulty;
- Liver and lung damage;
- Eye and kidney damage;
- Cardiovascular problems;
- Central nervous system damage.
If the aforementioned symptoms are not treated in a timely manner, they may lead to more serious health conditions such as argyria, or even coma and death.
What is Argyria?
Prolonged exposure increases the absorbed levels of silver in our body, which causes damage to our body. When a large quantity of silver enters our body via different routes of exposure, it comes into contact with the acids in our stomach. This causes silver to corrode and transforms the metal into a toxic salt which triggers further damage to tissues and organs.
When the individual with an abnormal accumulation of silver in their organism is exposed to sunlight, the chemical reaction triggered by sun rays colors the skin blue. Discoloration, also labeled as argyria, may also affect the whites of the eyes, as well as the internal organs.
These symptoms of argyria typically occur in the mouth at first by coloring the gums and the tongue blue and are irreversible. Since argyria is quite a rare disease, its mild forms are often mistaken for cyanosis.
Environmental Effects of Silver
In its pure, elemental form, silver is generally not harmful to the environment. However, it can be released via various industrial processes and thus contaminate the geological, biological, and aquatic systems. On the other hand, the mining of silver often leads to land erosion which can greatly impact our environment in a negative way by polluting its systems.
Isotopes of Silver
There are 40 isotopes of silver with atomic weight ranging from 93Ag to 132Ag. Naturally occurring silver (47Ag) is made up of two stable isotopes – 107Ag and 109Ag. Both of these silver forms occur in almost equal abundance in Earth’s crust.
The primary decay mode of the forms of element 47 that come before the most abundant stable isotope (107Ag) is electron capture which results in palladium isotopes, while the primary mode of the isotopes after 108Ag is beta decay and produces cadmium isotopes.
|Z||N||Isotopic mass (Da)
[n 2][n 3]
[n 6][n 7]
[n 8][n 4]
|Natural abundance (mole fraction)|
|Excitation energy[n 4]||Normal proportion||Range of variation|
|95Ag||47||48||94.93548(43)#||1.74(13) s||β+ (>99.9%)||95Pd||(9/2+)|
|β+, p (<.1%)||94Rh|
|96Ag||47||49||95.93068(43)#||4.45(4) s||β+ (96.3%)||96Pd||(8+)|
|β+, p (3.7%)||95Rh|
|98Ag||47||51||97.92157(7)||47.5(3) s||β+ (99.99%)||98Pd||(5+)|
|β+, p (.0012%)||97Rh|
|106Ag||47||59||105.906669(5)||23.96(4) min||β+ (99.5%)||106Pd||1+|
|107Ag[n 9]||47||60||106.905097(5)||Stable[n 10]||1/2−||0.51839(8)|
|108Ag||47||61||107.905956(5)||2.37(1) min||β− (97.15%)||108Cd||1+|
|109Ag[n 11]||47||62||108.904752(3)||Stable[n 10]||1/2−||0.48161(8)|
|110Ag||47||63||109.906107(3)||24.6(2) s||β− (99.7%)||110Cd||1+|
|111Ag[n 11]||47||64||110.905291(3)||7.45(1) d||β−||111Cd||1/2−|
|120Ag||47||73||119.91879(8)||1.23(4) s||β− (99.99%)||120Cd||3(+#)|
|β−, n (.003%)||119Cd|
|121Ag||47||74||120.91985(16)||0.79(2) s||β− (99.92%)||121Cd||(7/2+)#|
|β−, n (.076%)||120Cd|
|122Ag||47||75||121.92353(22)#||0.529(13) s||β− (>99.9%)||122Cd||(3+)|
|β−, n (<.1%)||121Cd|
|123Ag||47||76||122.92490(22)#||0.300(5) s||β− (99.45%)||123Cd||(7/2+)|
|β−, n (.549%)||122Cd|
|124Ag||47||77||123.92864(21)#||172(5) ms||β− (99.9%)||124Cd||3+#|
|β−, n (.1%)||123Cd|
|125Ag||47||78||124.93043(32)#||166(7) ms||β− (>99.9%)||125Cd||(7/2+)#|
|β−, n (<.1%)||124Cd|
|126Ag||47||79||125.93450(32)#||107(12) ms||β− (>99.9%)||126Cd||3+#|
|β−, n (<.1%)||125Cd|
|127Ag||47||80||126.93677(32)#||79(3) ms||β− (>99.9%)||127Cd||7/2+#|
|β−, n (<.1%)||126Cd|
|β−, n (<.1%)||128Cd|
List of Silver Compounds
Silver’s most common oxidation state in a chemical compound is +1. Despite being a chemically inactive element, silver reacts with sulfuric acid and nitric acid. When exposed to H2O, element 47 maintains a stable structure.
The list of most commonly occurring and prepared silver compounds contains the following items:
- Fulminating silver
- Organosilver chemistry
- Potassium argentocyanide
- Rubidium silver iodide
- Silver acetate
- Silver acetylide
- Silver arsenate
- Silver azide
- Silver behenate
- Silver bromate
- Silver bromide
- Silver carbonate
- Silver chlorate
- Silver chloride
- Silver chromate
- Silver cyanate
- Silver cyanide
- Silver diamine fluoride
- Silver dichromate
- Silver diethyldithiocarbamate
- Silver fulminate
- Silver halide
- Silver hexafluorophosphate
- Silver iodate
- Silver iodide
- Silver molybdate
- Silver nitrate
- Silver nitride
- Silver nitrite
- Silver oxalate
- Silver oxide
- Silver perchlorate
- Silver permanganate
- Silver perrhenate
- Silver phosphate
- Silver proteinate
- Silver selenite
- Silver subfluoride
- Silver sulfadiazine
- Silver sulfate
- Silver sulfide
- Silver sulfite
- Silver telluride
- Silver tetrafluoroborate
- Silver thiocyanate
- Silver trifluoromethanesulfonate
- Silver(I,III) oxide
- Silver(I) fluoride
- Silver(I) hyponitrite
- Silver(I) selenide
- Silver(II) fluoride
- Silver(III) fluoride
- Tetrakis(pyridine)silver(II) peroxydisulfate
- Tollens’ reagent
- Walden reductor
5 Interesting Facts and Explanations
- Silver of 92.5% purity is labeled as sterling silver. Also known as ‘925 sterling silver’, this metal alloy contains 92.5% silver (Ag) and 7.5% copper (Cu). It’s popularly used for making jewelry and other decorative objects. Most investors who deal in precious metals usually trade in sterling silver.
- After the Spanish conquest of the Americas in 1492, the mining of silver rapidly increased and overshadowed all other metals on the market. Comstock Lode mines in Nevada, United States is where the silver-mining frenzy began in the 15th century.
- Element 47 has the highest electrical conductivity of all metals classified in the periodic table.
- At the beginning of the 20th century, people used to put silver coins in milk bottles to prolong the freshness and shelf-life of dairy products.
- One fifth of the silver quantities produced in the world today is obtained via methods of recycling.