NOV 17, 2017 12:37 PM PST

What Gives Metals Their Shine?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Humans have always shown a love for shiny objects. The shinier and the more it catches the light, the more we seem to be drawn to it. Consider the precious metals, such as gold and silver. In addition to rarity, we attribute a hefty price tag to these metals because of their physical properties. And in the case for art, jewelry, and fine jewelry, the shine of the metal can be a critical component.

But what gives metals their shine? Chemically, metals have a "sea of electrons" that's loosely flowing around a network of positively-charged ions. When a wave of light hits the metal, the sea of electrons absorb the energy from the light, which makes them vibrate at the atomic level. Those seemingly imperceptible movements generate a second wave of light radiating from the surface. So a metal's shine is really reflected light, thanks to the special composition of the electrons. Watch the video to learn more!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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