10 Zinc Facts

Interesting Facts About the Element Zinc

Zinc is a blue-gray metal also known as spelter.
Zinc is a blue-gray metal also known as spelter. Ben Mills

Zinc is a blue-gray metallic element, sometimes called spelter. You encounter this metal every day, plus your body needs it to survive. Here's a collection of 10 interesting facts about the element:

10 Zinc Facts

  1. Zinc has the element symbol Zn and atomic number 30, making it a transition metal and the first element in group 12 of the periodic table.
  2. The element name is believed to come from the German word ‘zinke’, which means "pointed". It appears Paracelsus supplied this name. This is likely a reference to the pointed zinc crystals that form after zinc is smelted. Andreas Marggraf is credited with isolating the element in 1746, by heating together calamine ore and carbon in a closed vessel. However, the English metallurgist William Champion had actually patented the process for isolating zinc several years earlier. Even Champion isn't due credit for the discovery, since smelting of zinc had been in practice in India since the 9th century B.C. According to the International Zinc Association (ITA), zinc was recognized as a unique substance in India by 1374. 
  1. Although zinc was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was not as common as iron or copper, probably because the element boils away before it reaches the temperature which would be needed to extract it from its ore. However, artifacts do exist proving its use, including a sheet of Athenian zinc, dating back to 300 B.C. Because zinc is found together with copper, the metal's use was more common as an alloy rather than as the pure element.
  2. Zinc is an essential mineral for human health. It is the second most abundant metal in the body, after iron. The mineral is important for immune function, white blood cell formation, egg fertilization, cell division, and a host of other enzymatic reactions. Foods rich in zinc include lean meat and seafood. Oysters are particularly rich in zinc.
  3. While it's important to get enough zinc, too much can cause problems. Too much zinc can suppress absorption of iron and copper. One noteworthy side effect of excessive zinc exposure is a permanent loss of smell and/or taste. The FDA issued warnings regarding zinc nasal sprays and swabs. Problems from excessive ingestion of zinc lozenges or from industrial exposure to zinc have also been reported. Because zinc is so closely tied to the body's ability to sense chemicals, zinc deficiency also commonly causes reduced sense of taste and smell. Zinc deficiency may also be a cause of age-related vision deterioration.
  1. Zinc has many uses. It is the 4th most common metal for industry, after iron, aluminum, and copper. Of the 12 million tons of the metal produced annually, about half goes to galvanization. Brass and bronze production account for another 17% of zinc's use. Zinc, its oxide, and other compounds are found in batteries, sunscreen, paints, and other products. Zinc salts burn blue-green in a flame.
  1. Although galvanization is used to protect metals against corrosion, zinc actually does tarnish in air. The product is a layer of zinc carbonate, which inhibits further degradation, thus protecting the metal beneath it.
  2. Zinc forms several important alloys. Foremost among these is brass, an alloy of copper and zinc.
  3. Almost all mined zinc (95%) comes from zinc sulfide ore. Zinc is easily recycled and about 30% of the zinc produced annually is recycled metal.
  4. Zinc is the 24th most abundant element in the Earth's crust.

Time to see if you can pass a zinc facts quiz!