Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag (Latin: argentum, from the Indo-European root *arg- for "grey" or "shining") and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal. The metal occurs naturally in its pure, free form (native silver), as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Most silver is produced as a by-product of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.
Silver has long been valued as a precious metal, and it is used to make ornaments, jewelry, high-value tableware, utensils (hence the term silverware), and currency coins. Today, silver metal is also used in electrical contacts and conductors, in mirrors and in catalysis of chemical reactions. Its compounds are used in photographic film and dilute silver nitrate solutions and other silver compounds are used as disinfectants and microbiocides. While many medical antimicrobial uses of silver have been supplanted by antibiotics, further research into clinical potential continues.
Silver is a very ductile and malleable (slightly harder than gold) monovalent coinage metal with a brilliant white metallic luster that can take a high degree of polish. It has the highest electrical conductivity of all metals, even higher than copper, but its greater cost has prevented it from being widely used in place of copper for electrical purposes. Despite this, 13,540 tons were used in the electromagnets used for enriching uranium during World War II (mainly because of the wartime shortage of copper). An exception to this is in radio-frequency engineering, particularly at VHF and higher frequencies, where silver plating to improve electrical conductivity of parts including wires is widely employed. Another notable exception is in high-end audio cables where scaling copper conductors by 6% achieves slightly better results.
Among metals, pure silver has the highest thermal conductivity (the non-metal diamond and superfluid helium II are higher) and one of the highest optical reflectivities. (Aluminium slightly outdoes silver in parts of the visible spectrum, and silver is a poor reflector of ultraviolet light). Silver also has the lowest contact resistance of any metal. Silver halides are photosensitive and are remarkable for their ability to record a latent image that can later be developed chemically. Silver is stable in pure air and water, but tarnishes when it is exposed to air or water containing ozone or hydrogen sulfide, the latter forming a black layer of silver sulfide which can be cleaned off with dilute hydrochloric acid. The most common oxidation state of silver is +1 (for example, silver nitrate: AgNO3); in addition, +2 compounds (for example, silver(II) fluoride: AgF2) and the less common +3 compounds (for example, potassium tetrafluoroargentate: K[AgF4] ) are known.
Naturally occurring silver is composed of two stable isotopes, 107Ag and 109Ag, with 107Ag being the most abundant (51.839% natural abundance). Silver's isotopes are almost equal in abundance, something which is rare in the periodic table. Silver's atomic weight is 107.8682(2) g/mol. Twenty-eight radioisotopes have been characterized, the most stable being 105Ag with a half-life of 41.29 days, 111Ag with a half-life of 7.45 days, and 112Ag with a half-life of 3.13 hours. This element has numerous meta states, the most stable being 108mAg (t1/2 = 418 years), 110mAg (t1/2 = 249.79 days) and 106mAg (t1/2 = 8.28 days). All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than an hour, and the majority of these have half-lives that are less than 3 minutes.
Isotopes of silver range in relative atomic mass from 93.943 (94Ag) to 126.936 (127Ag); the primary decay mode before the most abundant stable isotope, 107Ag, is electron capture and the primary mode after is beta decay. The primary decay products before 107Ag are palladium (element 46) isotopes, and the primary products after are cadmium (element 48) isotopes.
The palladium isotope 107Pd decays by beta emission to 107Ag with a half-life of 6.5 million years. Iron meteorites are the only objects with a high-enough palladium-to-silver ratio to yield measurable variations in 107Ag abundance. Radiogenic 107Ag was first discovered in the Santa Clara meteorite in 1978. The discoverers suggest that the coalescence and differentiation of iron-cored small planets may have occurred 10 million years after a nucleosynthetic event. 107Pd–107Ag correlations observed in bodies that have clearly been melted since the accretion of the solar system must reflect the presence of unstable nuclides in the early solar system.
Jewelry and silverwaresterling silver (standard silver), an alloy of 92.5% silver with 7.5% copper. In the US, only an alloy consisting of at least 90.0% fine silver can be marketed as "silver" (thus frequently stamped 900). Sterling silver (stamped 925) is harder than pure silver, and has a lower melting point (893 °C) than either pure silver or pure copper. Britannia silver is an alternative hallmark-quality standard containing 95.8% silver, often used to make silver tableware and wrought plate. With the addition of germanium, the patented modified alloy Argentium Sterling Silver is formed, with improved properties including resistance to firescale.
Sterling silver jewelry is often plated with a thin coat of .999 fine silver to give the item a shiny finish. This process is called "flashing". Silver jewelry can also be plated with rhodium (for a bright, shiny look) or gold.
Silver is a constituent of almost all colored carat gold alloys and carat gold solders, giving the alloys paler color and greater hardness. White 9 carat gold contains 62.5% silver and 37.5% gold, while 22 carat gold contains up to 91.7 gold and 8.4% silver or copper or a mix of copper/silver. The more Copper added, the more "orange" the gold becomes. Rose Gold (stamped 375 or 9K (can be stamped 9c) was very popular in the UK in the late 19th Century.
Historically the training and guild organization of goldsmiths included silversmiths as well, and the two crafts remain largely overlapping. Unlike blacksmiths, silversmiths do not shape the metal while it is red-hot but instead, work it at room temperature with gentle and carefully placed hammer blows. The essence of silversmithing is to take a flat piece of metal and by means of different hammers, stakes and other simple tools, to transform it into a useful object.
While silversmiths specialize in, and principally work, silver, they also work with other metals such as gold, copper, steel, and brass. They make jewelry, silverware, armor, vases, and other artistic items. Because silver is such a malleable metal, silversmiths have a large range of choices with how they prefer to work the metal. Historically, silversmiths are mostly referred to as goldsmiths, which was usually the same guild. In the western Canadian silversmith tradition, guilds do not exist; however, mentoring through colleagues becomes a method of professional learning within a community of craftspeople.
Silver is much cheaper than gold, though still valuable, and so is very popular with jewelers who are just starting out and cannot afford to make pieces in gold, or as a practicing material for goldsmith apprentices. Silver has also become very fashionable, and is used frequently in more artistic jewelry pieces.
Traditionally silversmiths mostly made "silverware" (cutlery, table flatware, bowls, candlesticks and such). Only in more recent times has silversmithing become mainly work in jewelry, as much less solid silver tableware is now handmade.
DentistrySilver can be alloyed with mercury, tin and other metals at room temperature to make amalgams that are widely used for dental fillings. To make dental amalgam, a mixture of powdered silver and other metals is mixed with mercury to make a stiff paste that can be adapted to the shape of a cavity. The dental amalgam achieves initial hardness within minutes but sets hard in a few hours.
Photography and electronicsPhotography used 30.98% of the silver consumed in 1998 in the form of silver nitrate and silver halides. In 2001, 23.47% was used for photography, while 20.03% was used in jewelry, 38.51% for industrial uses, and only 3.5% for coins and medals. The use of silver in photography has rapidly declined, due to the lower demand for consumer color film from the advent of digital technology, since in 2007 of the 894.5 million ounces of silver in supply, just 128.3 million ounces (14.3%) were consumed by the photographic sector, and the total amount of silver consumed in 2007 by the photographic sector compared to 1998 is just 50%.
Some electrical and electronic products use silver for its superior conductivity, even when tarnished. The primary example of this is in high quality RF connectors. The increase in conductivity is also taken advantage of in RF engineering at VHF and higher frequencies, where conductors often cannot be scaled by 6%, due to tuning requirements, e.g.cavity filters. As an additional example, printed circuits and RFID antennas can be made using silver paints, and computer keyboards use silver electrical contacts. Silver cadmium oxide is used in high voltage contacts because it can withstand arcing.
Some manufacturers produce audio connector cables, speaker wires, and power cables using silver conductors, which have a 6% higher conductivity than ordinary copper ones of identical dimensions, but cost very much more. While many hi-fi enthusiasts believe that silver wires improve their sound quality, there is debate on the subject.
During World War II the short supply of copper brought about the United States government's use of silver from the Treasury vaults for conductors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (After the war ended the silver was returned to the vaults.)
Small devices such as hearing aids and watches commonly use Silver oxide batteries due to their long life and high energy/weight ratio. Another usage is high-capacity silver-zinc and silver-cadmium batteries.
Mirrors and opticsMirrors which need superior reflectivity for visible light are made with silver as the reflecting material in a process called silvering, though common mirrors are backed with aluminium. Using a process called sputtering, silver (and sometimes gold) can be applied to glass at various thicknesses, allowing different amounts of light to penetrate. Silver is usually reserved for coatings of specialized optics, and the silvering most often seen in architectural glass and tinted windows on vehicles is produced by sputtered aluminium, which is cheaper and less susceptible to tarnishing and corrosion. Silver is the reflective coating of choice for solar reflectors.
 Other industrial and commercial applications Flutes, in particular, are commonly constructed of silver alloy or silver plated, both for appearance and for the frictional surface properties of silver.
Silver's catalytic properties make it ideal for use as a catalyst in oxidation reactions, for example, the production of formaldehyde from methanol and air by means of silver screens or crystallites containing a minimum 99.95 weight-percent silver. Silver (upon some suitable support) is probably the only catalyst available today to convert ethylene to ethylene oxide (later hydrolyzed to ethylene glycol, used for making polyesters)— an important industrial reaction. Because silver readily absorbs free neutrons, it is commonly used to make control rods that regulate the fission chain reaction in pressurized water nuclear reactors, generally in the form of an alloy containing 80% silver, 15% indium, and 5% cadmium. Silver is used to make solder and brazing alloys, and as a thin layer on bearing surfaces can provide a significant increase in galling resistance and reduce wear under heavy load, particularly against steel