Zinc has been known for millennia and saw extensive use across the ancient world. Alloys of zinc, especially brass (Zn + Cu), were employed by a variety of old civilizations – Judean brass has been found dating back to the 14th century BCE.

Zinc was isolated in India around 1300 CE. It was imported to the West after this, but scientific study of the metal wouldn’t begin in earnest for several hundred years. The Swiss physician Paracelsus was the first Westerner to identify the element as a unique metal around 1526. Its name derives from the German zinke, or tooth, owing to the needle-like structure of the pure metal. In the centuries following, various Europeans contributed to the study of the element. The brothers William and John Champion discovered new and efficient ways of purifying zinc, which would see use for many years.

In the late 18th century, Luigi Galvani used zinc in his experiments which paved the way for modern electricity. His friend, Alessandro Volta, used the now-classic combination of zinc and copper to create a powerful but primitive battery, then called the Voltaic pile. The titles of the galvanic cell and the process of galvanization both honor Galvani’s work. Volta’s legacy is carried on in the very unit of electric potential, the Volt.

Zinc is a chemical element with the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. Zinc is a slightly brittle metal at room temperature and has a shiny-greyish appearance when oxidation is removed. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table.

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