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Reactivity series of metals

Reactivity series


When metals react with other substances the metal atoms form positive ions by loosing electrons (from their outermost shells). However, some metals tend to form ions more easily than others. This tendency of forming positive ions (by loosing electrons) is called reactivity.

Metals can be arranged in a list according to their reactivity, which is known as the reactivity series. This series helps us understand the relative reactivity of different metals and their likelihood to undergo reactions with other substances.

In a reactivity series, the most reactive element is placed at the top and the least reactive element at the bottom.

The metals, including potassium, sodium, lithium, calcium, magnesium, aluminium, zinc, iron, tin, lead, copper, silver, and gold, can be organized based on their reactivity by observing their reactions with other substances such as water and dilute acids. This arrangement allows us to determine the relative reactivity of these metals and their behavior when exposed to these substances.

In the reactivity series, we also have two non-metals: hydrogen and carbon. These non-metals play a crucial role in extracting metals from their oxides, which are found in metal ores. The use of hydrogen and carbon is particularly important in the extraction of metals from their ores because they are affordable and widely accessible. Their presence in the reactivity series helps us understand their importance in metal extraction processes.

Reactivity series of metals, including non-metals Carbon and Hydrogen
Fig 1. Reactivity series of metals, inclusing non-metals carbon and hydrogen

Displacement reactions:

A more reactive metal will displace a less reactive metal from one of its compound. A displacement reaction is one where a more reactive element (a metal or a non-metal) replaces (displaces) a less reactive element (a metal or a non-metal) in a compound. This type of reactions are often very useful in various industrial applications.

The following example demonstrates how magnesium displaces copper from aqueous copper sulfate solution.

Example of displacement reactions: magnesium displacing copper from copper sulfate solution
Fig 2. Magnesium displacing copper from copper sulfate solution in a displacement reaction

Reaction with water:

Some metals react with water, either warm or cold, or with steam.

Most reactive metals such as Potassium (K), Sodium (Na), Lithium (Li) and Calcium (Ca) react quickly with cold water.

Less reactive metals such as Magnesium (Mg), Zinc (Zn) and Iron (Fe) won’t react with water, but they react with steam.

Unreactive metals such as Copper (Cu), Silver (Ag) and Gold (Au) won’t react with water.

Reaction with dilute acids:

Most metals react with dilute acids to produce a salt and hydrogen gas.

Metal oxides:

When metals react with oxygen a metal oxide is formed.

Oxidation refers to a chemical process where a substance loses electrons, resulting in an increase in its oxidation state. On the other hand, reduction involves the gain of electrons by a substance, leading to a decrease in its oxidation state.

Rust is formed when iron reacts with oxygen and water to form hydrated Iron (III) oxide. Rusting is an oxidation reaction.

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