Aluminium
January 6, 2017 6:04 AM   Subscribe

What is aluminium? It a silvery-white metal which is abundant in the Earth's crust. The Wright Brothers were early adopters of aluminium in engine construction. Now, aluminium is used to make cans, window frames, aircraft, fireworks and foil. Controversially, aluminium has also been used to make cricket bats. The ease of use of aluminium, and the flexibility properties especially when alloyed for strength or security for use in items such as coins, has helped make it the most widely used non-ferrous metal. Also, aluminium is often used to make kitchen utensils such as pots and pans. Finally, the sounds made by the manipulation of thin aluminium surfaces can have pleasing ASMR characteristics.
posted by Wordshore (73 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
God, this is kinda awkward, but you've misspelled aluminum every single time.
posted by percor at 6:06 AM on January 6, 2017 [86 favorites]


*extruding intensifies*
posted by thelonius at 6:07 AM on January 6, 2017 [11 favorites]


I always wondered why my British colleagues pronounced it "alumiñum".
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:11 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


I always wondered why my British colleagues pronounced it "alumiñum".

That's an unfortunate side effect of increasing numbers of Brits vacationing in Spain.
posted by percor at 6:13 AM on January 6, 2017 [14 favorites]


It is also seemingly used in anti perspiration devices and that makes my armpits itch
posted by Postroad at 6:17 AM on January 6, 2017


Also one of the two elements required for a sapphire.
posted by humanfont at 6:22 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


It is also seemingly used in anti perspiration devices and that makes my armpits itch

Use deodorant instead. Itchy armpits is one of the early signs of Alzheimer's.
posted by percor at 6:23 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


they make bikes out of it

it's really soft

use a torque wrench and anti-seize when tightening fasteners into it or you're gonna have a bad time
posted by indubitable at 6:34 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


They make baseball bats out of it which the wealthy towns next to ours are allowed to use in Little League games, consistently outhitting our team who only use wooden bats, except when we play those teams, but none of our kids own the $400.00 aluminum bats those rich kids do.

Aluminum is bullshit.
posted by bondcliff at 6:36 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Aluminum is bullshit.
posted by bondcliff at 2:36 PM on January 6


I've just looked at your profile. Did you just change your status?
posted by Wordshore at 6:42 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


Well I do like the taste.

(and no, it's been that way for a while now)
posted by bondcliff at 6:47 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]




How did that British 'al oo min ee um' vs the obviously correct USA pronunciation get started anyway? You can also make it real pretty by anodizing in all kinds of colors, it was pretty popular if you were a MTB rider in the 90s.
posted by fixedgear at 7:02 AM on January 6, 2017


Also one of the two elements required for a sapphire.

And one of the three required for a ruby.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:03 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've always held that aluminium was the Marvel Comics version of aluminum, with double the lightness and strength. The extra "I" makes it special!
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:03 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


How did that British 'al oo min ee um' vs the obviously correct USA pronunciation get started anyway?
Humphry Davy was inconsistent back in the day and we Americans are contrarian pricks.

Aluminum is bullshit.
At least in baseball, aluminium (and all non-wooden) bats are dangerous because of the higher speed of the balls off the bats.
posted by mattamatic at 7:08 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Aluminum, won't we?
posted by gc at 7:11 AM on January 6, 2017


From World Wide Words:
Sir Humphry made a bit of a mess of naming this new element, at first spelling it alumium (this was in 1807) then changing it to aluminum, and finally settling on aluminium in 1812. His classically educated scientific colleagues preferred aluminium right from the start, because it had more of a classical ring, and chimed harmoniously with many other elements whose names ended in –ium, like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, all of which had been named by Davy.
posted by kersplunk at 7:13 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


For those without access to a bauxite refinery, Cody demonstrates how to extract aluminum metal from dirt
posted by Vitamaster at 7:18 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


One is disappointed at the digressionary derail taken by unfortunate iterations of incorrect pronounciations of aluminium, and formally request that discussions relating to, and around, actual aluminium resume henceforth.
posted by Wordshore at 7:24 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


Rhymes with balloon-ium or GTFO.
posted by Mchelly at 7:25 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


With aluminum foil, foil
Never settle for less
That kind of wrap is just the best
To keep your sandwich nice and fresh
posted by Melismata at 7:26 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Pronuciation, according to wild haired guy.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:26 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


For me the interesting thing about aluminum and its history is how it went from being a precious metal to an everyday component of stuff average schmucks like me buy every day. The idea of wrapping food in aluminum foil would have been like protecting food by wrapping it in thick gold leaf to people in the mid-19th.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:35 AM on January 6, 2017 [12 favorites]


For me the interesting thing about aluminum and its history is how it went from being a precious metal to an everyday component of stuff average schmucks like me buy every day.

The tip of the Washington Monument is a pyramid of aluminum that was worth more than half a year's wage of a common laborer on the project.
posted by Etrigan at 7:41 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


Alumin(i)um is relatively easy to cast at home. Mr. Motion currently has a keg foundry like this guy, but he was also quite captivated with this electric resistance foundry the other day.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:46 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Listening to Jonathan Ive talk about aluminium also has pleasing ASMR characteristics.
posted by zsazsa at 7:51 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Just leaving this here:

(Cut to Kruger and Frank)

(They're looking at the Festivus pole)

FRANK: It's made from aluminum. Very high strength-to-weight ratio.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:54 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


One thing missing in this list of alumin(i)um fun facts...
Like most magical materials, there is a lake of toxic goo left behind when it's made. And like most containers, someday it leaks open.
Wikipedia Article on the Ajka alumina plant accident.
Google Images
posted by danjo at 8:08 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


Napoleon commissioned a baby rattle made of aluminum back when it was worth more than gold.

What would I take back in a time machine? Aluminum wire wrapped around my waist, like Rimbaud on his travels, with the gold wire.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:12 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's actually pronounced "jiluminium".
posted by tobascodagama at 8:16 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


On behalf of the materials scientists of MetaFilter, I would like to thank you for the metallurgy porn posts.
posted by blurker at 8:25 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]




Guadalupe Peak (the not-really-all-that tallest mountain in Texas has an aluminum tip. It's not really very hard to climb but the scenery is good.
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:39 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


At the middle school regional spelling bee, to attend which I had out-spelled everyone in my middle school, I misspelled this word by beginning: "i-l-l-u-m". Then I paused, turned red, and realized I would never achieve greatness.

I have hated this word ever since.
posted by allthinky at 8:45 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Aluminum? I hardly know 'em!
posted by briank at 8:47 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of the fascinating bits of trivia in Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert is that hydroelectric power in the PNW helped the US win WWII, because those plants powered aluminum smelters, which he described as basically gigantic resistors (engineers will no doubt correct me on this; the Wikipedia article makes them seem more complex than that). The abundance of electrical power helped the US replace aluminum aircraft much faster than the Japanese.

Also, my experience with aluminum was mostly in the recycling game, which I got into as a kid scrounging for empty beer cans in the parks in the Wisconsin small town that I lived in during much of the seventies. We made some decent pocket money just from hitting the trash cans at the local parks; when I took a few bags of cans to a local recycling place much more recently, the price didn't seem to have gone up much, given the amount of time that had passed.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:55 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Alumin(i)um is relatively easy to cast at home.

And, in certain parts of the world, create decorative fire ant art.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:03 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


I am so torn about fire ant casting. I've never encountered a fire ant (thankfully) but I understand that they are terrible, and I certainly wouldn't have a problem with extermination (at least in human-occupied areas).

But melting living creatures with molten metal just seems so cruel, regardless of how cool the results are. But this seems like an illogical feeling, since I know nothing about how the various poisons that I am just fine with using feel to the ants.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:12 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Aluminumium
posted by gottabefunky at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ugh, fire ants. Dangerous and invasive, yet people still get het up about killing them. Damn things are a menace. Given the way that many common pesticides work, I don't think drowning them in molten metal is really any worse, and at least you get a nice casting of the colony for your trouble.

More on topic, aluminum is a fantastic material. It does take a lot of energy to refine, but unlike plastics it is indefinitely recyclable and is much easier/cheaper to work with than most other metals. You can even anodize it relatively easily, so fantastic colors can be developed in a few seconds. Just don't try to use it for electrical wiring in your house. That damn oxide layer that is in other situations one of aluminum's better qualities makes it a complete fire hazard. Even slathered with NoOx, the risk is pretty high that it will oxidize and suddenly turn into a very hot resistor.
posted by wierdo at 9:29 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


The usual encounter with fire ants: you unknowingly step on their nest. Approximately 3 or 4 hundred ants swarm up your leg, they are tiny, you don't feel them. All at once they start stinging you. You jump around like a fool, tearing off clothes and brushing off ants. You are bitten 40 or 50 times. In a couple days your leg is covered with itchy red pimples filled with puss. They stop itching in a couple weeks. You will still have unsightly marks on your skin a year later.

Molten aluminum is about right for them.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:35 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


Can we do copper next?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:40 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Shouldn't we just start with Hydrogen and work out way down? I call Bismuth!
posted by leotrotsky at 9:55 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Can we do copper next?

YES!
posted by blurker at 10:13 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I live near Alcoa, Tennessee. Alcoa was named for the gigantic ALCOA smelter and sheet mill plant that's been in operation for about a century. A few years ago, the City of Alcoa built a new high school, and ALCOA worked with them to provide a 40-foot tall, 20-ton aluminum dome to top the new structure.

Aluminum is pretty important around here.
posted by workerant at 10:17 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Bill Hammack has a wonderful video about the design and manufacture of aluminum cans that makes a good companion piece to the "cans" video above.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2017


What is aluminium?

One of the most efficient ways to export electricity.
posted by straight at 11:27 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


What is aluminium?

The most beautiful way to kill ants.
posted by straight at 11:28 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also one of the two elements required for a sapphire.

And one of the three required for a ruby.


And zero of the one required for a diamond!
posted by maryr at 11:34 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Until the modern process of using electricity to refine aluminum from Bauxite was perfected, getting pure aluminum out of bauxite using older chemical extraction techniques was really expensive. It was used for jewelry and medals and such initially.

The use of electricity to refine aluminum was invented in the 1880's but the power requirements were high and so the cost still remained high. In the USA, Aluminum was able to be produced on a relatively abundant scale after the availability of abundant and cheap power from Niagara Falls which also coincidentally had abundant aluminous clay. What used to be the Pittsburgh Reduction Company relocated to Niagara Falls and became ALCOA. To give an idea, Aluminum went from $8.00/pound to $2.00/pound within a couple of years after this.

So even though Aluminum is really abundant in the earth's crust, its use as a material for regular use really got going only in the last 100-125 years or so.

I have recently started reading up on Materials Science. A lot of what we think of as modern improvements in quality of life is really based on advances in Material Science. Start with Mark Miowdonik's book on this for a good introduction. Which is why I think the modern day materials scientists are like medieval alchemists at one level. Bung a bunch of transition metals together, heat it up, fuse it; and then test it's properties!!
posted by indianbadger1 at 11:38 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


Another fantastic post by Wordshore!
posted by ouke at 11:39 AM on January 6, 2017


Until the modern process of using electricity to refine aluminum from Bauxite was perfected

The production of aluminum from bauxite is incredibly energy intensive. More than 3% of the world’s entire electrical supply went to extraction of aluminum in 2010. This is why you should always, always recycle aluminum when possible, because reusing the material is much cheaper (in dollars and kilowatt-hours) than making more from bauxite. My understanding is that revenue from aluminum props up most recycling programs, because other materials are break-even or worse.

posted by yobgorgle at 11:55 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Having long thought that aluminium was pretty inert, I only recently found out that the reason is the oxide layer that readily forms on its surface.

It turns out that it is quite reactive, and its reaction with mercury is quite a thing to behold (and a rather scary thought if one flies in aluminium airplanes very often)
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 12:03 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


I call Bismuth!

I love it that the most stable isotope (209) is radioactive (demonstrated only this century) with a half-life about a billion times longer than the projected total lifetime of the universe itself.
posted by jamjam at 12:06 PM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


It turns out that it is quite reactive, and its reaction with mercury is quite a thing to behold...

Surely some prisons have aluminum bars, and mercury thermometers ... I feel a screenplay coming on.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:09 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Fun to imagine, but I can't see it happening when steel is both cheaper and stronger.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:15 PM on January 6, 2017


Maybe in a space prison, though, where mass is a factor...
posted by tobascodagama at 12:15 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


While we're on this, I'm going to go ahead and mention my least favorite metal. Fucking roentgenium. Squatting in what was once a perfect periodic column of Copper, Silver, and Gold. The halflife is so short, nobody knows for sure what color it is, and if you say silver, I still don't care. They should have put that shit anywhere but there on the periodic table. Wanker.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:25 PM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Maybe in a space prison, though, where mass is a factor...
posted by tobascodagama


Maybe Alcoa has their own prison in the basement like the Scientologists.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:31 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


The usual encounter with fire ants: you unknowingly step on their nest. Approximately 3 or 4 hundred ants swarm up your leg, they are tiny, you don't feel them. All at once they start stinging you. You jump around like a fool, tearing off clothes and brushing off ants. You are bitten 40 or 50 times. In a couple days your leg is covered with itchy red pimples filled with puss. They stop itching in a couple weeks. You will still have unsightly marks on your skin a year later.

That sounds like every fire ant encounter I have ever had, except that I didn't get the year-long bite marks. Even one fire ant encounter would be enough to feel no sympathy whatsoever about the aluminum castings.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:11 PM on January 6, 2017


One is disappointed at the digressionary derail taken by unfortunate iterations of incorrect pronounciations

Get used to disappointment.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:15 PM on January 6, 2017


This has been fun reading about. Iceland has 3 aluminum smelters despite having no bauxite (aluminum ore) and being out in the middle of the north Atlantic. Aluminum is concentrated into ore by weathering of masses of limestone / dolomite or clay. So the biggest deposit of bauxite is in Jamaica, a big pile of limestone on top of a volcanic core. Cryolite, the flux used to refine alumina into metallic aluminum comes from Greenland (though it is mined out now). So why Iceland? Because it has the perfect environment for making electricity. Hot geothermal wells right next to freezing cold ocean. Plus lots of hydro power. They avoid the nasty red mud by only importing refined alumina.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:41 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Get used to disappointment.

Le sigh. One does not wish to cast oneself in the role of doryphore, but fears this logomachy will not easily tire.
posted by Wordshore at 1:50 PM on January 6, 2017


Dear God, what is that materiality?
posted by maryr at 3:00 PM on January 6, 2017


Also, can I please note that the nonstick aluminum foil is deep. deep into WHAT DARK MAGIC IS THIS? territory?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:00 PM on January 6, 2017


Silicone baking things all seem unnatural to me. Soft plastic things that don't melt. You know they are going to turn out to cause Alzheimer's or toe fungus and we will have to stop using them.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:28 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm always a bit amazed when I use aluminium foil. Like, it's a sheet of metal! You're tearing it apart with your bare hands like some sort of beast!

> a perfect periodic column of Copper, Silver, and Gold.

Huh, I'd never noticed that. For a minute I was thinking that that's one hell of a coincidence, but googling a bit points out that's exactly why they became the special, ranked ones.
posted by lucidium at 5:33 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


It turns out that it is quite reactive, and its reaction with mercury is quite a thing to behold...

Surely some prisons have aluminum bars, and mercury thermometers ... I feel a screenplay coming on.


I've never ever heard of aluminum cell bars, but if you want to talk about a potential screenplay involving elements, you should know that Barry Sonnenfeld is in talks with Warner Bros. to develop a movie involving these guys.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:42 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


One does not wish to cast oneself in the role of doryphore, but fears this logomachy will not easily tire.

Speak English, you commie!

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:45 PM on January 6, 2017


... talks with Warner Bros. to develop a movie involving these guys.

OK, so we have "field leader Gold, strong man Iron, slow-witted and loyal Lead, hot-headed Mercury, self-doubting and insecure Tin, and Platinum (also called "Tina")"?

So, hot-headed Mercury falls in love with the newcomer, Aluminum ("Ally") but their love can never be. Loyal slow-witted Lead and insecure Tin can only watch in sadness, until they decide to seek out the tribal counsel of their clan, and wise Germanium presides, eventually summoning Silicon who is neither he nor she, a semi-conductor.

Silicon, Aluminum, and Mercury by some contrivance of the author, are trapped in a room, where through hardship and cooperation they overcome adversity while finding an unconventional symbiosis and bonhomie, and they decide to enter into a nontraditional three-way union.

The happy ending shows the three of them lying in bed, Mercury and Aluminum, smiling coyly, carefully clink just the rims of their champagne flutes. Mercury on the right, Aluminum on the left. Silicon is in the middle with one hand on each of their thighs.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:03 AM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


It's traditional for Metal Men stories to end with all of the Metal Men dying dramatically, usually after making use of their elements' chemical properties in some way, so I'm pretty sure Mercury and Ally would lovingly embrace and then explode to disable the bad guy's doomsday device.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:46 AM on January 7, 2017


The happy ending shows the three of them lying in bed, Mercury and Aluminum, smiling coyly, carefully clink just the rims of their champagne flutes. Mercury on the right, Aluminum on the left. Silicon is in the middle with one hand on each of their thighs.

Despite the fact that you spelt [blink]aluminium[/blink] incorrectly, added as a favorite for being a very leftfield rule 34 metal slash fiction. Or, something.
posted by Wordshore at 9:19 AM on January 7, 2017


« Older Better living through... biohacking?   |   Interview with Thomas Dolby talking about... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments