Nickel, Applications, Biological Role and Limitations

Published: 25th January 2011
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Nickel is one of the most popular metals in the metal world. Along with copper, silver, gold and other essential metals, nickel possesses various useful characteristics that gave it a significant spot in metallurgy. Its first use can be traced back 3500 BC as a primary metal for making farming and hunting tools. It is even mistaken as another metal or part of another metal until it was recognized as an element during the 18th century.

The color of nickel ranges from silvery-white to slight gold tinge. It is one of the very few metals that are ferromagnetic with respect to room temperature. Ferromagnetic metals are those that can be attracted by magnets. Other ferromagnetic metals are cobalt, gadolinium and iron. And like copper and silver, nickel has high resistance to corrosion. It is also hard and ductile but very difficult to polish.

The use of nickel is extensive in the fields of Electronics. It can be wrought to form magnets, stainless steel, coins, rechargeable batteries and the like depending on what metal it can alloy with. It has no definite use as a pure element but can produce excellent metal compounds when alloyed with aluminum, copper, lead, cobalt, silver and gold. Some alloys of nickel produce brass and bronze metals that are used to create fan blades, motor bearings and fixings for cryogenic systems.

Aside from its solid uses, nickel is also found to have a vital biological role for most organisms. Nickel is a content of an important enzyme that assists in the hydrolysis of human urea, making it a mobilizing element for the urinary system. It is also found in the enzyme superoxide dismutases, which plays as an antioxidant and defends oxygen-exposed cells. Being a non ferrous metal, nickel fights corrosion detrimental to the general human health.

However, like any other element that poses side effects from high concentration, nickel can be toxic. When nickel alloys are pulverized to dust, this element is highly carcinogenic. It also gives off carbon monoxide which is a dangerous gas. Exposures to its fumes can cause anything from slight allergies to severe skin diseases.

The bottom line is that nickel is an important element, but it must be used sparingly. The fact that it can produce useful materials canít be discredited over the disadvantages it poses. Forming nickel alloys instead of using it pure may lessen its drawbacks.

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