Name: Zinc
Symbol: Zn
Atomic Number: 30
AtomicWeight: 65.390000
Family: Transition Metals
CAS RN: 7440-66-6
Description: Hard, brittle, shiny bluish-white transition metal.
State (25C): Solid
Oxidation states: +2

Molar Volume: 9.16 cm3/mole
Valence Electrons: 4s2

Boiling Point:  1180K, 907C, 1665F
Melting Point:
692.88K, 419.73C, 787.51F
Electrons Energy Level: 2, 8, 18, 2
Isotopes: 24 + 5 Stable
Heat of Vaporization: 115.3 kJ/mol
Heat of Fusion: 7.322 kJ/mol
Density: 7.13 g/cm3 @ 300K
Specific Heat: 0.39 J/gK
Atomic Radius: 1.53
Ionic Radius: 0.74
Electronegativity: 1.65 (Pauling); 1.66 (Allrod Rochow)
Vapor Pressure: 19.2 Pa @ 419.73C

1s2 2s2p6 3s2p6d10 4s2

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Alchemical Symbol, Zinc


In ancient India the production of zinc metal was very common.  Many mine sites of Zawarmaala were active even during 1300-1000 BC.  There are references of medicinal uses of zinc in the Charaka Samhita (300 BC).  The Rasaratna Samuccaya (800 AD) explains the existence of two types of ores for zinc metal, one of which is ideal for metal extraction while the other is used for medicinal purpose.  Zinc alloys have been used for centuries, as brass goods dating to 1000-1400 BC have been found in Israel and zinc objects with 87% zinc have been found in prehistoric Transylvania.  Because of the low boiling point and high chemical reactivity of this metal (isolated zinc would tend to go up the chimney rather than be captured), the true nature of this metal was not understood in ancient times.

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Assorted Representations of Alchemical Zinc, Zink

The manufacture of brass was known to the Ebi by about 30 BC, using a technique where calamine and copper were heated together in a crucible.  The zinc oxides in calamine were reduced, and the free zinc metal was trapped by the copper, forming an alloy.   The resulting calamine brass was either cast or hammered into shape.

Smelting and extraction of impure forms of zinc was accomplished as early as 1000 AD in India and China.  In the West, impure zinc as a remnant in melting ovens was known since Antiquity, but usually discarded as worthless.  Strabo mentions it as pseudo-arguros — "mock silver".  The Berne zinc tablet is a votive plaque dating to Roman Gaul, probably made from such zinc remnants.  The discovery of pure metallic zinc is most often credited to the German Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, in the year 1746 by heating calamine with charcoal, though the whole story is disputed.  Zinc, from German:  Zink in some historical and sculptural contexts, it is (or was) known as spelter.

The English metallurgist Libavius received in 1597 a quantity of zinc metal in its pure form, which was unknown in the West before then. Libavius identified it as Indian/Malabar lead.  Paracelsus (1616) was credited with the name "zinc".   Postlewayt's Universal Dictionary, the most authentic source of all technological information in Europe, did not mention zinc before 1751.

In 1738, William Champion is credited with patenting in Britain a process to extract zinc from calamine in a smelter, a technology he acquired after visiting Zawar zinc mines in Rajasthan.  His first patent was rejected by the patent court on grounds of plagiarising the technology common in India.  However he was granted the patent on his second submission of patent approval.

Before the discovery of the zinc sulfide flotation technique, calamine was the mineral source of zinc metal.

Today, most zinc is produced through the electrolysis of aqueous zinc sulfate (ZnSO4).


Zinc is a moderately-reactive bluish-white metal that tarnishes in moist air and burns in air with a bright greenish flame, giving off plumes of zinc oxide.  It reacts with acids, alkalis and other non-metals.  If not completely pure, zinc reacts with dilute acids to release hydrogen.  The one common oxidation state of zinc is +2.  From 100C to 210C zinc metal is malleable and can easily be beaten into various shapes.  Above 210 C, the metal becomes brittle and will be pulverized by beating.

2s2 2p6
3s2 3p6 3d10


Zinc is the 23rd most abundant element in the Earth's crust.  The most heavily mined ores (sphalerite) tend to contain roughly 10% iron as well as 40–50% zinc.   Minerals from which zinc is extracted include sphalerite (zinc sulfide), smithsonite (zinc carbonate), hemimorphite (zinc silicate), and franklinite (a zinc spinel).

Mining & Processing

There are zinc mines throughout the world, with the largest producers being Australia, Canada, China, Peru and the United States.  Mines and refiners in Europe include Umicore in Belgium, Tara, Galmoy and Lisheen in Ireland, and Zinkgruvan in Sweden.   Zinc metal is produced using extractive metallurgy.  Zinc sulfide (sphalerite) minerals are concentrated using the froth flotation method and then usually roasted using pyrometallurgy to oxidize the zinc sulfide to zinc oxide.  The zinc oxide is leached in several stages of increasingly stronger sulfuric acid (H2SO4).   Iron is usually rejected as Jarosite or goethite, removing other impurities at the same time.  The final purification uses zinc dust to remove copper, cadmium and cobalt.  The metal is then extracted from the solution by electrowinning as cathodic deposits.  Zinc cathodes can be directly cast or alloyed with aluminium.

Electrolyte solutions must be very pure for electrowinning to be at all efficient. Impurities can change the decomposition voltage enough to where the electrolysis cell produces largely hydrogen gas rather than zinc metal.

There are two common processes for electrowinning the metal, the low current density process, and the Tainton high current density process.  The former uses a 10% sulfuric acid solution as the electolyte, with current density of 270–325 amperes per square meter.  The latter uses 22-28% sulfuric acid solution as the electrolyte with current density of about 1000 amperes per square meter.  The latter gives better purity and has higher production capacity per volume of electrolyte, but has the disadvantage of running hotter and being more corrosive to the vessel in which it is done.   In either of the electrolytic processes, each metric ton of zinc production expends about 3900 kWh (14 MJ) of electric power.

There are also several pyrometallurgical processes that reduce zinc oxide using carbon, then distill the metallic zinc from the resulting mix in an atmosphere of carbon monoxide.   These include the Belgian-type horizontal-retort process, the New Jersey Zinc continuous vertical-retort process, and the St. Joseph Lead Company's electrothermal process.  The Belgian process requires redistillation to remove impurities of lead, cadmium, iron, copper, and arsenic.  The New Jersey process employs a fractionating column, which is absent in the Belgian process, that separates the individual impurities, where they can be sold as byproducts.  The St. Joseph Lead Company process heats the zinc oxide/coke mixture by passing an electric current through it rather than by coal or gas fire

Another pyrometallurgical process is flash smelting.  Then zinc oxide is obtained, usually producing zinc of lesser quality than the hydrometallurgical process.  Zinc oxide treatment has much fewer applications, but high grade deposits have been successful in producing zinc from zinc oxides and zinc carbonates using hydrometallurgy.


The most widely used alloy of zinc is brass, in which copper is alloyed with anywhere from 9% to 45% zinc, depending upon the type of brass, along with much smaller amounts of lead and tin.  Alloys of 85–88% zinc, 4–10% copper, and 2–8% aluminum find limited use in certain types of machine bearings.  Alloys of primarily zinc with small amounts of copper, aluminum, and magnesium are useful in die-casting.  Similar alloys with the addition of a small amount of lead can be cold-rolled into sheets.   An alloy of 96% zinc and 4% aluminum is used to make stamping dies for low production run applications where ferrous metal dies would be too expensive.


Zinc is the fourth most common metal in use, trailing only iron, aluminum and copper in annual production.

The highly characteristic metal counters of traditional French bars are often referred to as zinc bars or vaguely zinc, but actually zinc has never been used for this purpose and the counters are really made of an alloy of lead and tin.


Zinc oxide is perhaps the best known and most widely used zinc compound, as it makes a good base for white pigments in paint.  It also finds industrial use in the rubber industry, and is sold as opaque sunscreen.  A variety of other zinc compounds find use industrially, such as zinc chloride (in deodorants), zinc pyrithione (anti-dandruff shampoos), zinc sulfide (in luminescent paints), and zinc methyl or zinc diethyl in the organic laboratory.  Roughly one quarter of all zinc output is consumed in the form of zinc compounds.


Naturally occurring zinc is composed of the 5 stable isotopes 64Zn, 66Zn, 67Zn, 68Zn, and 70Zn with 64Zn being the most abundant (48.6% natural abundance).  Twenty-four radioisotopes have been characterised with the most abundant and stable being 65Zn with a half-life of 244.26 days, and 72Zn with a half-life of 46.5 hours.  All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 14 hours and the majority of these have half lives that are less than 1 second.  This element also has 4 meta states.

Zinc has been proposed as a "salting" material for nuclear weapons (cobalt is another, better-known salting material).  A jacket of isotopically enriched 64Zn, irradiated by the intense high-energy neutron flux from an exploding thermonuclear weapon, would transmute into the radioactive isotope Zn-65 with a half-life of 244 days and produce approximately 2.27 MeV of gamma radiation, significantly increasing the radioactivity of the weapon's fallout for several days.  Such a weapon is not known to have ever been built, tested, or used.

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Atomic Mass
54Zn 53.99295  
55Zn 54.98398 ~20 ms
56Zn 55.97238 36 ms
57Zn 56.96479 38 ms
58Zn 57.95459 84 ms
59Zn 58.94926 182.0 ms
60Zn 59.941827 2.38 min
61Zn 60.939511 89.1 seconds
62Zn 61.934330 9.186 hours
63Zn 62.9332116 38.47 minutes
64Zn 63.9291422 Stable
65Zn 64.9292410 243.66 days
66Zn 65.9260334 Stable
67Zn 66.9271273 Stable
68Zn 67.9248442 Stable
69Zn 68.9265503 56.4 minutes
70Zn 69.9253193 Stable
71Zn 70.927722 2.45 minutes
72Zn 71.926858 46.5 hours
73Zn 72.92978 23.5 seconds
74Zn 73.92946(5) 95.6 seconds
75Zn 74.93294(8) 10.2 seconds
76Zn 75.93329(9) 5.7 seconds
77Zn 76.93696 2.08 seconds
78Zn 77.93844 1.47 seconds
79Zn 78.94265 0.995 seconds
80Zn 79.94434 545 ms
81Zn 80.95048 290 ms
82Zn 81.95442 ~100 ms
83Zn 82.96103 ~80 ms

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40px-Skull_and_crossbones.svg.jpg (1420 bytes) Metallic zinc is not considered to be toxic, but free zinc ions in solution (like copper or iron ions) are highly toxic.  There is also a condition called zinc shakes or zinc chills  that can be induced by the inhalation of freshly formed zinc oxide formed during the welding of galvanized materials.   Excessive intake of zinc can promote deficiency in other dietary minerals.

Biological Role

Zinc is an essential element, necessary for sustaining all life.  It is estimated that 3000 of the hundreds of thousands of proteins in the human body contain zinc prosthetic groups.  In addition, there are over a dozen types of cells in the human body that secrete zinc ions, and the roles of these secreted zinc signals in medicine and health are now being actively studied.  Intriguingly, brain cells in the mammalian forebrain are one type of cell that secretes zinc, along with its other neuronal messenger substances.  Cells in the salivary gland, prostate, immune system and intestine are other types that secrete zinc.

Zinc is an activator of certain enzymes, such as carbonic anhydrase. Carbonic anhydrase is important in the transport of carbon dioxide in vertebrate blood. It is also required in plants for leaf formation, the synthesis of indole acetic acid (auxin) and anaerobic respiration (alcoholic fermentation).

Food Sources

Zinc is found in oysters, and to a far lesser degree in most animal proteins, beans, nuts, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.  Phytates, which are found in whole grain breads, cereals, legumes and other products, have been known to decrease zinc absorption.  Clinical studies have found that zinc, combined with antioxidants, may delay progression of age-related macular degeneration, but the effect is extremely small and not likely to be clinically important.  Significant dietary intake of zinc has also recently been shown to impede the onset of flu.  Soil conservation analyzes the vegetative uptake of naturally occurring zinc in many soil types.

The (US) recommended dietary allowance of zinc from puberty on is 11mg for males and 8mg for females, with higher amounts recommended during pregnancy and lactation.

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc deficiency results from inadequate intake of zinc, or inadequate absorption of zinc into the body.  Signs of zinc deficiency includes hair loss, skin lesions, diarrhea, wasting of body tissues, and, eventually, death.  Eyesight, taste, smell and memory are also connected with zinc.  A deficiency in zinc can cause malfunctions of these organs and functions.  Congenital abnormalities causing zinc deficiency may lead to a disease called Acrodermatitis enteropathica.

Obtaining a sufficient zinc intake during pregnancy and in young children is a very real problem, especially among those who cannot afford a good and varied diet.  Brain development is stunted by zinc insufficiency in utero and in youth.

Zinc deficiency causes a decrease in appetite -- which could degenerate in anorexia nervosa (AN).  Appetite disorders, in turn, cause malnutrition and, notably, inadequate zinc nutriture.  The use of zinc in the treatment of anorexia nervosa has been advocated since 1979 by Bakan.  At least 5 trials showed that zinc improved weight gain in anorexia.  A 1994 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed that zinc (14 mg per day) doubled the rate of body mass increase in the treatment of anorexia nervosa (AN).  Deficiency of other nutrients such as tyrosine and tryptophan (precursors of the monoamine neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin, respectively), as well as vitamin B1 (thiamine) could contribute to this phenomenon of malnutrition-induced malnutrition.

Zinc Toxicity

Even though zinc is an essential requirement for a healthy body, too much zinc can be harmful.  Excessive absorption of zinc can also suppress copper and iron absorption.   The free zinc ion in solution is highly toxic to plants, invertebrates, and even vertebrate fish.  The Free Ion Activity Model (FIAM) is well-established in the literature, and shows that just micromolar amounts of the free ion kills some organisms.   A recent example showed 6 micromolar killing 93% of all daphnia in water.   Swallowing an American one cent piece (98% zinc) can also cause damage to the stomach lining due to the high solubility of the zinc ion in the acidic stomach.   Zinc toxicity, mostly in the form of the ingestion of US pennies minted after 1982, is commonly fatal in dogs where it causes a severe hemolytic anemia.

Immune System

Zinc salts are effective against pathogens in direct application.   Gastrointestinal infections are also strongly attenuated by ingestion of zinc, and this effect could be due to direct antimicrobial action of the zinc ions in the GI tract, or to absorption of the zinc and re-release from immune cells (all granulocytes secrete zinc) or both.

The direct effect of zinc (as in lozenges) on bacteria and viruses is also well-established, and has been used since at least 2000 BC, from when zinc salts in palliative salves are documented.  However, exactly how to deliver zinc salts against pathogens without injuring one's own tissues is still being investigated.

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Zinc Data

Atomic Structure

  • Atomic Radius: 1.53
  • Atomic Volume: 9.2cm3/mol
  • Covalent Radius: 1.25
  • Cross Section (Thermal Neutron Capture) Barns: 1.11
  • Crystal Structure: Hexagonal
  • Electron Configuration:
    1s2 2s2p6 3s2p6d10 4s2
  • Electrons per Energy Level: 2, 8, 18, 2
  • Ionic Radius: 0.74
  • Filling Orbital: 3d10
  • Number of Electrons (with no charge): 30
  • Number of Neutrons (most common/stable nuclide): 35
  • Number of Protons: 30
  • Oxidation States: +2
  • Valence Electrons: 4s2

Chemical Properties

  • Electrochemical Equivalent: 1.22 g/amp-hr
  • Electron Work Function: 4.33eV
  • Electronegativity: 1.65 (Pauling); 1.66 (Allrod Rochow)
  • Heat of Fusion: 7.322 kJ/mol
  • Incompatibilities:
  • Ionization Potential
    • First: 9.394
    • Second: 17.964
    • Third: 39.722
  • Valence Electron Potential (-eV): 38.9

Physical Properties

  • Atomic Mass Average: 65.39
  • Boiling Point: 1180K, 907C, 1665F
  • Coefficient of Lineal Thermal Expansion/K-1: 25E-6
  • Conductivity
    Electrical: 0.166 106/cm
    Thermal: 1.16 W/cmK
  • Density: 7.13 g/cm3 @ 300K
  • Description:
    Hard, brittle, shiny bluish-white transition metal.
  • Elastic Modulus:
    • Bulk: 69.4/GPa
    • Rigidity: 41.9/GPa
    • Youngs: 104.5/GPa
  • Enthalpy of Atomization: 129.7 kJ/mole @ 25C
  • Enthalpy of Fusion: 7.32 kJ/mole
  • Enthalpy of Vaporization: 115.5 kJ/mole
  • Flammablity Class:
  • Freezing Point: see melting point
  • Hardness Scale
    • Brinell: 412 MN m-2
    • Mohs: 2.5
  • Heat of Vaporization: 115.3 kJ/mol
  • Melting Point: 692.88K, 419.73C, 787.51F
  • Molar Volume: 9.16 cm3/mole
  • Optical Reflectivity: 80%
  • Optical Refractive Index: 1.00205
  • Physical State (at 20C & 1atm): Solid
  • Specific Heat: 0.39 J/gK
  • Vapor Pressure: 19.2 Pa @ 419.73C

Regulatory / Health

  • CAS Number
    • 7440-66-6
  • OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)
    • No limits set by OSHA
  • OSHA PEL Vacated 1989
    • No limits set by OSHA
  • NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL)
    • No limits set by NIOSH
  • Levels In Humans:
    Note: this data represents naturally occuring levels of elements in the typical human, it DOES NOT represent recommended daily allowances.
    • Blood/mg dm-3: 7
    • Bone/p.p.m: 75-170
    • Liver/p.p.m: 240
    • Muscle/p.p.m: 240
    • Daily Dietary Intake: 5-40 mg
    • Total Mass In Avg. 70kg human: 2.3 g
  • Discovery Year: Unknown
  • Name Origin:
    German: zink (German for tin).
  • Abundance:
    • Earth's Crust/p.p.m.: 75
    • Seawater/p.p.m.:
      • Atlantic Suface: 0.00005
      • Atlantic Deep: 0.0001
      • Pacific Surface: 0.00005
      • Pacific Deep: 0.00052
    • Atmosphere/p.p.m.: N/A
    • Sun (Relative to H=1E12): 28200
  • Sources:
    Found in the minerals zinc blende (sphalerite) (ZnS), calamine, franklinite, smithsonite (ZnCO3), willemite, and zincite (ZnO). Annual world wide production is around 5,020,000 tons. Primary mining areas are USA, Canada, Australia, Austria, Russia and Turkey.
  • Uses:
    Used to coat other metals (galvanizing) to protect them from rusting. Used in alloys such as brass, bronze, nickel. Also in solder, cosmetics and pigments.
  • Additional Notes:
    Many sources of European origins credit Andreas Marggraf with discovering zink in 1746, however, it had been know in India and China since before the 1500s.

Ionization Energy (eV): 9.394 eV
Estimated Crustal Abundance: 7.0101 milligrams per kilogram
Estimated Oceanic Abundance:
4.910-3 milligrams per liter

Transition Metals
Group 3
10 (VIIIB) 11
Period 4 21
Period 5 39
Period 6 57
Period 7 89

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