Chemical Element: zinc

(Modern Latin: from German, zink; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Zn
Atomic number: 30
Year discovered: Prehistoric to 1500

Discovered by: Andreas Sigismund Marggraf (1709-1782), German chemist in 1746.

  • Centuries before zinc was recognized as a distinct element, zinc ores were used for making brass (a mixture of copper and zinc).
  • Alloy containing 87 percent zinc was found in prehistoric ruins in Transylvania.
  • Metallic zinc was produced in the 13th century in India by reducing calamine (zinc carbonate) with organic substances such as wool.
  • Credit, as the first European to produce metallic zinc as a separate entity in commercial quantities, must go to William Champion who, in 1738, obtained patent protection for a furnace fitted with an external condenser.
  • The metal was re-discovered in Europe by Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, in 1746, when he showed that it could be obtained by reducing calamine with charcoal.
  • Marggraf introduced the microscope as an aid in chemical work and distinguished between oxides of aluminum and calcium.
  • He also discovered sugar in the sugar beet (1747) thus founding the sugar-beet industry.
  • The largest single world use for zinc is for the protection of steel against atmospheric corrosion; in the U. S. this use ranks second to use in die-casting alloys.
  • The next-largest world use for zinc is for die-casting alloy; in the U. S. this use ranks first.
  • Alloyed with copper, zinc forms the important group of alloys known as the brasses.
  • Zinc can be readily rolled into sheet and in this form is used in building construction, giving long service at a reasonable cost.
  • Zinc is used in medicine in the form of various salts, most of which are antiseptic, astringent, irritant, caustic, or toxic.
  • Zinc preparations are used locally in alcoholic or watery solutions, as washes for eyes, ears, wounds, or ulcers.
  • The irritant and caustic salts of zinc are very dangerous if taken internally.

  • Name in other languages:

    French: zinc

    German: Zink

    Italian: zinco

    Spanish: cinc

    Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.

    A special unit about words that include chemo-, chem- may be seen here.