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Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.


Metals, group of chemical elements that exhibit all or most of the following physical qualities: they are solid at ordinary temperatures; opaque, except in extremely thin films; good electrical and thermal conductors; lustrous when polished; and have a crystalline structure when in the solid state. Metals and nonmetals are separated in the periodic table by a diagonal line of elements. Elements to the left of this diagonal are metals, and elements to the right are nonmetals. Elements that make up this diagonal—boron, silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony, tellurium, polonium, and astatine—have both metallic and nonmetallic properties (see Periodic Law). The common metallic elements include the following: aluminum, barium, beryllium, bismuth, cadmium, calcium, cerium, chromium, cobalt, copper, gold, iridium, iron, lead, lithium, magnesium, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, osmium, palladium, platinum, potassium, radium, rhodium, silver, sodium, tantalum, thallium, thorium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zinc. Metallic elements can combine with one another and with certain other elements, either as compounds, as solutions, or as intimate mixtures. A substance composed of two or more metals, or a substance composed of a metal and certain nonmetals such as carbon are called alloys.


Metals are generally very strong and resistant to different types of stresses. Though there is considerable variation from one metal to the next, in general metals are marked by such properties as hardness, the resistance to surface deformation or abrasion; tensile strength, the resistance to breakage; elasticity, the ability to return to the original shape after deformation; malleability, the ability to be shaped by hammering; fatigue resistance, the ability to resist repeated stresses; and ductility, the ability to undergo deformation without breaking. See Materials Science and Technology.


Metals typically have positive valences in most of their compounds, which means they tend to donate electrons to the atoms to which they bond. Also, metals tend to form basic oxides. Typical nonmetallic elements, such as nitrogen, sulfur, and chlorine, have negative valences in most of their compounds—meaning they tend to accept electrons—and form acidic oxides (see Acids and Bases; Chemical Reaction).

Metals typically have low ionization potentials. This means that metals react easily by loss of electrons to form positive ions, or cations. Thus, metals can form salts (chlorides, sulfides, and carbonates, for example) by serving as reducing agents (electron donors).

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