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Mercury Uses in Everyday Life

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Last updated date: 01st Mar 2024
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Overview of Mercury

Have you ever wondered what the silver-coloured stuff present in the thermometer is? It is a metallic element called mercury. Here's your chance to discover everything you could want to know about mercury, a metal that's liquid at room temperature with some pretty interesting properties. Throughout the centuries, mercury has had many roles, from being used in lamps and thermometers to even being used in microscopes and dental amalgams!


Let’s dive in deeper and learn more about mercury uses in everyday life, where is mercury found and much more.


Discovery of Mercury

No contemporary written records mention the discovery of mercury. It is uncertain when the discovery was made, and it is unknown who made the discovery. Mercury metal has been mentioned in various historical documents, including literature and legend, but there were many mentions of mercury being used for preparing medicines and much more.


Sources of Mercury

Mercury can be found naturally in the air, soil, and water. It occurs in various forms, such as inorganic, elemental, or organic compounds, depending on its speciation. 

  • Methylmercury, a form of mercury,  results from microorganisms in the ocean breaking down mercury-containing organic matter. 

  • Inorganic mercury mostly comes from coal-burning power plants releasing it into the environment.

  • Elemental mercury is released by extensive industrial processes like gold mining.

Your exposure to these forms of mercury could differ greatly depending on where you live. But regardless of how it makes its way into our environment, mercury poses a serious health risk to people and animals. 


Characteristics and Properties of Mercury

The characteristics and properties of mercury are as follows:

  • Mercury is a metallic element with a silvery, shiny appearance and silver-white colour. 

  • Mercury is the only metal that is a liquid at room temperature. 

  • Mercury is a highly toxic, silvery-white liquid metal that boils at 357 degrees Celsius. 

  • It is heavy, with one cubic inch weighing 13.5 pounds. 

  • Mercury’s density doesn’t change much as it freezes or melts and expands slightly on heating or cooling. 

  • Solid mercury has a low coefficient of friction, and “wets” glass, just like water does, with the ability to seep through microscopic openings to form droplets on the other side of glass barriers. 

  • Mercury is toxic, and its exposure in high concentrations can lead to death. exposure to mercury vapour occurs in various ways - inhalation (breathing), ingestion (eating), or skin contact (touching).


Uses of Mercury

Mercury is used in a variety of everyday activities in our everyday lives. Below are a few instances of such applications:

Thermometers

One of the most common real-world uses of the mercury element is in thermometers, which record and display temperatures of nearby objects or the surrounding air. The body temperature of a living thing, the temperature inside an oven, the temperature of meat, etc. are some of the daily uses of thermometers. The majority of thermometers operate primarily, thanks to the characteristics of mercury. There are applications for mercury thermometers in the home, in business, in industry, and research.


Thermometer


Thermometer


Fluorescent Lamps

Typically, a fluorescent lamp or tube consists of a glass tube, a phosphor coating, two electrodes, and a gas filling. A gas discharge occurs between the electrodes of the lamp or tube when the voltage is kept at the operational level. As a result of this discharge, the charged particles or electrons move along the field produced by the electrodes and strike the gas atoms.


Fluorescent Lamp


Fluorescent Lamp


Liquid Mirror Telescopes

A telescope that uses a liquid substance as the reflective surface is known as a liquid mirror telescope. Mercury is preferred as the material that is typically utilised to build liquid mirror telescopes.


Light Mirror Telescope


Light Mirror Telescope 


Dental Amalgams

Dental amalgam is a filling substance that is typically used by dentists and medical professionals to treat tooth decay and to fill cavities in teeth. Fundamentally, dental amalgam is created by combining various metals, including mercury, silver, tin, copper, etc. 


Dental Amalgam


Dental Amalgam


Vaccines

Another example of a mercury-using application is the vaccine industry. Thimerosal is an organic molecule with a mercury base that is present in several vaccines.


Vaccines


Vaccines


Summary

In this article, we have learnt about Mercury, its discovery, properties and uses. Mercury is a shiny, silver liquid metal that exists in nature as an elemental metallic vapor. When it's touched or heated it becomes liquid and conducts electricity easily. It is a fascinating metal that is used in many applications like thermometers, lamps, and much more. It has been known for a long time that mercury is toxic to humans and animals. We have also covered its properties and the discovery in this article. 

FAQs on Mercury Uses in Everyday Life

1. Why is mercury so valuable?

As a good electrical conductor, mercury is frequently utilised in a variety of items, including switches and batteries. Due to its propensity to mix with other metals, it is employed in small-scale mining operations to amalgamate gold and silver.

2. Why is mercury needed in the mining of gold?

Mercury is used in mines to recover tiny bits of gold that are buried in mud and dirt. An amalgam is created when mercury and gold settle and come together. The mercury is then burned off to extract the gold.

3. Why is mercury toxic?

Depending on the type and amount, mercury exposure can damage the nervous system, kidneys, liver, and immune system. Breathing mercury vapours can harm the nervous system, lungs, and kidneys. Mercury vapours can pass easily from the lungs to the bloodstream.