Element Mercury : it’s discovery


Mercury : liquid metal 

There is a science-fiction story by a Russian scientist I.A.EfremovThe Lake of the Mountain Spirits. Anybody who visited the lake in a sunny weather died. People living in the area were sure that the lake was inhabited with evil spirits who hated all visitors. When geologists reached the lake high in the mountains, they were amazed to learn that the lake contained not only water, but also native mercury element. And the “evil spirits” were nothing but element mercury vapour; in hot weather they rose above the surface of small and large mercury pools surrounding the lake.

Indeed, mercury is often found in native state, sometimes in most unexpected places. For instance, in some mountain regions of Spain, mercury was found at bottoms of wells. In antiquity mercury was known China and India. Mercury was also found in excavations of Egyptian tombs dating from about the Middle of the cinnabar was the only mercury containing mineral known in antiquity. Theophrastos (300 B.C.) described the process of extracting mercury from cinnabar by treating it with copper and vinegar. Man discovered mercury in ancient times owing to the fact that it is comparatively easily liberated from cinnabar at a sufficiently high temperature.

Mercury occurs in deposits throughout the world mostly as cinnabar (mercuric sulfide). The red pigment vermilion is obtained by grinding natural cinnabar or synthetic mercuric sulfide.

The world’s biggest mercury deposit is at Almaden (Spain). Exploitation of this deposit began at the time of the Roman Empire, and Romans extracted 4.5 tons of mercury annually. In antiquity mercury had many uses. Mirrors were made with amalgamated mercury; mercury and its compound were used as medicines. Cinnabar was mainly used as a pigment; and not for producing pure mercury. Before the invention of the galvanization process, mercury had been used in gilding and silvering processes. Amalgam of the metal was applied to a metal plate and heated to a high temperature. When mercury evaporated a thin coat of gold or silver remained on the plate. But this process was very unhealthy. Mercury played an important role in studies of gases; it was used in gas pumps and gas vessels.

Aristotle named mercury “liquid silver” and Dioskorides named in “silver water”. From this comes the Latin name of mercury –hydrargium.


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