Thursday, April 19, 2007

Aluminum

Aluminum has been capturing my attention over the last several years because of the abundance of gemstones that contain this miraculous metal. It is quite rare to find metals like Silver, Gold and Platinum to be a part of a gemstone's chemical structure. Aluminum is a part of a full spectrum of crystals including Garnets, Emeralds and Topaz.

While Aluminum is not rare (the third most abundant metal in Earth's crust) it proved to be much more difficult to discover and utilize than any of the other metals. Humans began working with Copper, Gold, Silver and Iron thousands of years ago. It was not until the very late 1700's that we even suspected that there might be an undiscovered metal lurking about.

It was French chemist Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau (who was also responsible for some of the names we call chemicals and minerals today) and Antoine Lavoisier that first worked together to convince the scientific community to look for a mineral oxide they called Alumine. It was 1787.

Twentyone years later Sir Humphry Davy was able to prove the exsistence of the metal and gave it the name Aluminium. Finally in 1825 the first human to actually see the metal was a Danish scientist named Hans Christian Oersted. He was able to produce minute quantities of it using a complicated process of diluting and distilling Aluminum Oxides from compound minerals.

Over the next few decades ambitious chemists and industrialists eagerly sought more effecient methods for extracting this new precious metal from Mother's crust. Around 1886 two scientists, Paul Louis Toussaint Heroult from France and Charles Martin Hall (USA) discovered a revolutionary method for extracting the stubborn Aluminum. The two young scientists did not know each other and neither were aware the other was experimenting with the new "magic", electricity, to produce Aluminum. However their simalteneous discovery, now known as the Hall-Heroult process catapulted Aluminum from an almost unknown metal into a common household product.

Hall went on to found the Pittsburgh Reduction Company. In 1907 the company was renamed the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). Another famous industrial name is attached to Aluminum's story. Karl Josef Bayer (his father founded the Bayer Chemical Company) capitalized on Hall's and Heroult's discovery to adapt the process to large scale production. Karl's revised version became known as the Bayer Process.

Aluminum basked in a bright spotlight during those early days of discovery. At the Paris Exihibition in 1855 a bar of Aluminum was on display as the new precious metal. Its market value was equal to Gold's. In 1884 Americans proudly capped one of their first monuments (The Washington Monument) with the bright silvery metal. Britians and tourists flocked to London's Piccadilly Circus in 1893 to see the shiny new Aluminum cast of the Statue of Eros.

After tens of thousands of years in ignorance we looked upon this glimmering new metal with wonder and awe. Then, in 150 short years, Aluminum would go from a coveted precious metal to a common household product.

Industry's hunger for this light, bright metal has grown expotentially as its price dropped. In 1852 Aluminum was selling for $1200 per kilogram. Seven short years later it was down to $40 per kilogram.

Its industrial popularity stems from its very desirable properties. First and foremost, Aluminum is extremely light and easy to alloy with heavier metals. When combined with Iron, it creates a strong, durable, corrosive resistant steel. It is also non-magnetic and doesn't spark. It is easy to hammer and cast. It conducts electricity. Though not as effecient as Copper lines, its lightweight features makes it much more practical for heavy transmission lines that must be strung for several miles.

While Aluminum is corrosive, it has a very unique way of protecting itself from being destroyed by corrosion. When Oxygen in the air attacks the metal, the atoms bond in a very dramatic way. They form a very thin layer of Aluminum Oxide that coats the metal and prevents any further deterioation.

Unltimately Aluminum's greatest value in industry is the ease with which it combines with other metals while imparting its qualities into the new material. Modern rockets and aircraft are very dependent on the alloys created with it.

Unlike other members of the metal family, Aluminum does not exsist naturally by itself. You cannot mine for Aluminum. It is only found as part of other materials, mostly rocks and crystals. Bauxite is the most abundant source. It is made up of 52% Aluminum Oxide. Feldspars are a close second also containing high quantities of the metal.

There seems to be no power, spiritual or healing attributes given to Aluminum. It is understandable that there is no historical background on Aluminum, since it is a very young material in human history. However, its omnipresence in our daily lives gives one reason to ponder what impact it might be having spiritually.

My personal experience with Aluminum was very pleasant. More than anything, I found the metal to be very "suggestive". As I pondered situations I was dealing with or ideas I was working with my mind would become flooded with options, alternatives and a variety of compromises I could use to resolve the particular challenge I was working on. I felt the metal kept me very open to new information and new ways to approach living. Its energy promotes innovation.

I found myself feeling more comfortable in groups and the annual family gatherings seemed to lack the normal tension for me. I felt more like a part of the whole, rather than someone on the outside looking in. It seems one of Aluminum's lessons is that of togetherness. By itself, its weaknesses can undo it; together with other elements it forms a stronger, more useful material. The same can be said for Humans. Completely alone, it is difficult for one to survive. Together, we can create anything we set our minds to. Including a world that is safe and free from hunger and fear.

No comments: