Fun Facts about Nickel

The chemical element nickel (Ni) has the atomic number 28 and belongs to the category of transition metals, which are found between the group 2 metals and the group 13 non-metals on the periodic table. It is one of only a few elements that are naturally magnetic at room temperature. Nickel is hard, silver-colored, ductile, and malleable, and these properties make it useful for a wide range of applications. It is also often combined with other metals such as iron to form alloys that have their own distinct characteristics and uses.

Fact 1: The name nickel comes from a German word meaning "devil's copper".

Nickel was discovered in 1751 by Axel Fredrick Cronstedt, a Swedish mineralogist. When testing a new mineral called niccolite, he was unable to extract any copper or cobalt from it. Instead, he found a new white metal with interesting properties such as magnetism. It was given the name "kupfernickel", meaning roughly "devil's copper", because impure ore with niccolite present resulted in a strange, brittle product that was nonetheless similar to copper in color.

Fact 2: Many common household products contain nickel.

Stainless steel is one nickel alloy that is used to make appliances ranging from refrigerators and stoves to pots and pans. Stainless steel does not rust easily and is quite strong, making it popular with many manufacturers. Nickel is also found in some magnets and in some batteries used to power devices such as cell phones and computers.

Fact 3: Nickel is commonly found in meteorites.

Scientists estimate that approximately two thirds of the known meteorites contain iron-nickel, which consists predominantly of iron but also has a significant nickel component. This means that meteorites have far greater levels of nickel than terrestrial rocks. It also makes them magnetic and frequently gives them a metallic appearance. Testing a sample for nickel content is a common way to determine if it is likely to be a meteorite.

Fact 4: Nickel is required for animal and plant health.

Nickel contributes to a variety of cellular processes in humans and other animals. For example, it can activate and inhibit enzymes, change membrane characteristics, and influence hormone production or activity. Oatmeal, chocolate, and nuts all contain significant amounts of nickel. In plants, nickel activates an enzyme that breaks down urea and prevents it from causing toxic effects. Plants growing in soil containing low amounts of nickel can show a strong growth response and yield increase when they are sprayed with a nickel solution.

Fact 5: Nickel can also negatively affect human health.

Although nickel is useful for many different applications, people can also develop nickel allergies, which result in itchy rashes or blisters. Nickel is present in many different products, but one of the most common is inexpensive earrings. Other people develop health problems, including cancer, as a result of breathing in dust or gas that contains nickel on a regular basis. Although the oral toxic dose of nickel is quite high, excessive levels of nickel can negatively affect human growth, development, and immune system function.