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Surprising Uses of Metal

March 8, 2016

Today’s guest article is by Jessica Kane, a professional blogger who writes for Federal Steel Supply, Inc.

Thanks to metals, modern society is able to create technologies that are durable, corrosion resistant and powerful. These technologies include cars, skyscrapers, weaponry, machinery and much more. However, there are many different uses of metal that aren't commonly known. Here are five that may surprize you!

1. Repairing Broken Bones

Bones or joints that are severely damaged can be mended together by using metal screws and pins, allowing for complete recovery. Before the effectiveness of this method was discovered, people that had severe bone damage often had to have their limbs amputated. In fact, psychic Edgar Cayce was reportedly one of the first to apply this technology on someone's bone that wouldn't heal. The technique worked so well that doctors still use it today.

2. Antiseptic

Certain metals, such as copper, have aseptic properties and can be used to kill germs effectively. Termed “contact killing,” the phenomenon was commonly known in ancient times and in more modern times copper’s use is on the rise for its germ killing attributes. Copper has been registered at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the first solid antimicrobial material. This explains why so many hospitals use copper in their infrastructure and furnishings. It's estimated that most germs die on copper's surface within an hour. Other metals that have similar properties include silver and gold. One might be surprised to find that many instruments used by both doctors and dentists are made of silver or gold. However, these two metals are considered to be antimicrobial, rather than antiseptic.

3. Sun Block

If an astronaut's visor appears to be a shining gold color, it's because the visor has actual gold in it. It just so happens that gold does a remarkable job at reflecting the sun's heat and more importantly, its harmful radiation. Gold is used on space shuttles and other spacecraft as well. Even some buildings on Earth use gold on their windows to reflect the sunlight. Despite the cost of this precious metal, it's still used in light-reflecting applications. Out of all metals and materials in general that reflect light, gold seems to be the winner.

4. Photography and Medical Imagery

Photography in the old days used a metal called silver halide for capturing images. The photographs were then placed inside a chemical bath to show the actual outline of the image. Elemental silver was used in traditional x-ray films. There was so much silver in these films that entire businesses were built for the sole purpose of collecting the silver in these photographs. Today, cameras and x-rays use entirely different material.

5. Mirrors

Old mirrors were made entirely of polished silver. As one can imagine, mirrors were very expensive and hard to come by back then. In later developments, mirrors were created by placing a silver coating on a piece of glass, cutting down the costs greatly. Now, much cheaper materials, such as aluminum, are used in mirrors. Stainless steel is another great material for mirror making. In fact, the side mirrors on older cars were made from steel. Regardless of the material used, metals are vital in mirror making.

Mirrors may seem to be a rather pedestrian use of metals, but the importance to modern life of our ability to check out our own image has more impact than many people really appreciate. Mirrors have important uses for things more profound than making sure our outfit matches before we head out the door. They are also used in advanced sciences for everything from lasers to telescopes.

In modern life, everything from advanced medical procedures to advanced astronomical studies relies upon metals. The unusual properties of metals are critical to our modern lifestyles, in ways both large and small. These unusual properties lead to unusual uses. Stop and think about what around you contains some form of metal where there is no reasonable substitute for it. Think how different life would be without it and how that difference would not be a good thing, but, in fact, would be a bad thing.

And, scrap metals are recyclable!

Jessica Kane writes for Federal Steel Supply, Inc., a leading supplier of carbon, alloy and stainless steel in pipe, tube, fittings and flanges.

NERC welcomes Guest Blog submissions. To inquire about submitting articles contact Athena Lee Bradley, Projects Manager at athena(at) Disclaimer: Guest blogs represent the opinion of the writers and may not reflect the policy or position of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc.

Concerned about recycling markets for scrap metal and other materials? Consider attending NERC’s Spring Conference—Recycling is Not Broken:  Facts vs. Fiction.  Early registration discount ends March 11!


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