Fact Sheet 2011–3016
Centuries before it was identified as an element, zinc was used to make brass (an alloy of zinc and copper) and for medicinal purposes. Metallic zinc and zinc oxide were produced in India sometime between the 11th and 14th centuries and in China in the 17th century, although the discovery of pure metallic zinc is credited to the German chemist Andreas Marggraf, who isolated the element in 1746.
Refined zinc metal is bluish-white when freshly cast; it is hard and brittle at most temperatures and has relatively low melting and boiling points. Zinc alloys readily with other metals and is chemically active. On exposure to air, it develops a thin gray oxide film (patina), which inhibits deeper oxidation (corrosion) of the metal. The metal’s resistance to corrosion is an important characteristic in its use.
First posted March 2011
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Kropschot, S.J., and Doebrich, J.L., 2011, Zinc—The key to preventing corrosion: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2011-3016, 2 p., available at https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3016/.