Copper: Breathing Life Into Human Progress

Evolution and human progress are closely linked. It is not only the evolution of the species alone, it is also the awareness of the surroundings and using it to one’s advantage. The bedrock of our progress was laid on the discovery and utilization of various metals which have ever so often changed the course of human history. One such metal, which has brought us out of the dark ages and into the modern world, is copper.

There’s an apt analogy between the construction of the human body and of the modern world. Human beings can move, eat, and think because of the nervous system in the body which coordinates each function of their activity. It runs on electric impulses constantly transmitted between the neural synapses. Is it different from the elaborate wiring system found in today’s modern buildings, automobiles and communication devices? Strip down the bricks of the building and you’ll see the magnificent network of copper craftsmanship bringing the entire building to life.

Quick Fact #1
The name of the metal (copper) originated in the Roman era as copper was principally mined on Cyprus. It was ‘aes сyprium’ (metal of Cyprus), later corrupted to сuprum, from which the modern word is derived.

Trace back the origins of copper and you’ll find yourself in 9000 BC in the Middle East. It is one of the few native metals (metals which can be found in a directly usable form) which humans have used to craft tools and weapons. Over the millennia, copper too has evolved in its uses – for e.g., in important alloys such as bronze, brass etc. We’ve come to understand its properties and harness its utility in a wide array of significant applications. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without copper. We rely on the metal for power, lighting, heating, communications, water supply and transport to mention a few. Copper makes our homes, hospitals, schools and offices comfortable and efficient. It powers our journey and helps us connect to our loved ones.

Here are a few uses of copper (or other forms of copper) which can be found around you:
• Copper compounds are used as bacteriostatic agents, fungicides, and wood preservatives.
• Copper is vital to all living organisms as a trace dietary mineral. It is a key constituent of the respiratory enzyme complex ‘cytochrome c oxidase’.
• The adult body contains between 1.4 and 2.1 mg of copper per kilogram of body weight.
• In humans, copper is found mainly in the liver, muscle, and bone.
• For more than two centuries, copper paint was used on boat hulls to control the growth of plants and shellfish.
• A small part of the copper supply is used for nutritional supplements and fungicides in agriculture.
• Copper doorknobs are used by hospitals to reduce the transfer of disease.
• Legionnaires’ disease is suppressed by copper tubing in plumbing systems.
• Making jewellery and coins

Since copper is an excellent thermal and electrical conductor among the engineering metals (second only to silver), power systems that utilize copper generate and transmit energy with high efficiency and with minimum environmental impacts. Copper plays an indispensable role in generating clean and renewable energy. It is primarily used in coil windings in generators and in low voltage cable conductors. It is found in the vertical electrical cable that connects the nacelle to the base of the wind turbine, in the coils of (step-up) transformers, and in gearboxes.

Quick Fact #2
Unlike mammals, which use iron (in haemoglobin) to transport oxygen around their bodies, some crustaceans use copper complexes.

In the absence of copper, life would be a lot different than it is today. Without copper, we couldn’t have even toasted bread, let alone travelling to the moon. It has served the advancement of our civilisation for several millennia now and will continue to do so in the future.

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