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Name: Hannah
Status: student
Grade: 6-8
Location: MD
Country: USA
Date: Summer 2012

What tests could you perform to separate metals and nonmetals?

The typical properties of metals, e.g. high thermal and electric conductivity, to mention just a few and the typical properties of non-metals, e.g. low melting and boiling points, offer a handle for separating the two classes of the elements. However, because of the wider range of these typical properties it is difficult (not possible ??) to perform a few simple tests that work for all cases. However, all is not lost!!

There is a sub-discipline of chemistry known as “Semi-micro Qualitative Analysis” that has fallen from favor in the chemistry curriculum. It provides experimental “roadmaps” for isolating and identifying many metals and non-metals. Personally, I find this unfortunate. There are several texts that can be downloaded free from the Internet if you search the term “Semi-micro Qualitative Analysis”.

Vince Calder

Hi Hannah, more information is needed to answer your question. First, are you trying to separate them (e.g. purify one, or both?), or simply trying to detect one or the other ("tests")? As with any separation, it depends on what things you're trying to separate, and if you can tolerate any changes to them. If you have particles of each, you can manually separate them (e.g. pull the rocks from the nuts and bolts). If you have a single solid chunk of something (such as nuts embedded in a chunk of plastic), you'll need to break the plastic apart first (you could melt it if it is a thermoplastic, but that would not work for a thermoset). If you do not need to recover the plastic at all, you could just burn it (leaving the metal behind). That would not work, though, if you had metal bolts inside a ceramic chunk -- you would have to shatter the ceramic. Then you could melt away the metal.... but I digress. The point is, it depends on what you are trying to separate. Simply saying "metal" and "non-metal" is not sufficient.

Hope this helps, Burr Zimmerman


Metals are differentiated from non-Metals in that Metals readily conduct electricity and heat. Refer to:

So you would perform tests that detect the electrical or heat conductivity of the substance to determine whether it was a metal or not.

Sincere regards, Mike Stewart

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