Mercury - The Unusual Liquid Metal

Jun 25 / Chemistry / 4 min read

Lazy Science Reader,

You must have heard about this substance, the one which comes in thermometers. But what is unusual or unique about this metal? Out of all the elements in the periodic table. Only four of them can exist in a liquid state at room temperature, which are gallium, bromine, caesium, and mercury. The last two elements are extremely hard to freeze solid because their freezing points are way lower than zero degree celsius. As they are extremely scarce on the earth's crust, it’s extremely hard to find this liquid metal in nature;
few people have seen naturally occurring mercury near its deposit. This metal is extracted from cinnabar which is the most abundant mercury-containing mineral. Since the time of ancient Rome, cinnabar powder has been used as a scarlet pigment if this is powder heated to a high temperature. Cinnabar will break down into two components which are sulfur and metallic mercury which creates a beautiful real mercury mirror on the walls of the container, upon further distillation of mercury vapours drops this precious metal could be collected in the receiver because at room temperature this liquid metal made people experience indescribable feelings. For many years mercury had been attributed to unusual and mystical properties; some even tried to cure different illnesses with this metal whereas alchemists of that time wanted to create a so-called philosopher stone capable of turning any material into gold (how more unusual can it be). However, all their attempts were futile because this metal does not have any curable nor any paranormal properties, and if not handled properly can do a lot of harm. High exposures to mercury can cause kidney malfunction, respiratory failure, and death. That is why this metal belongs to extremely toxic and heavy elements because mercury ions easily interfere with the work of many enzymes, especially in brain neurons.
Liquid mercury is a quite heavy and expensive metal having a density of more than 13 grams per cubic centimetre. 4 cubic centimetre of mercury weighs more than 50 grams and costs around 100 US dollar (expensive than silver).

Fun Fact :

  • Mercury is also known as Hydragyrum (Hg) is a Latinized form of the Greek word Hydrargyros which is a compound word meaning "water-silver" ( hydra - water; gyrum - silver)

  • Interestingly, mercuric oxide (HgO) played a “key role” in the discovery of oxygen. Both Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Joseph Priestley, who are both credited with the discovery of oxygen, discovered the gas by heating mercuric oxide (HgO)