Despite the many well-known uses of silver throughout history for items such as coins and jewellery, there are many modern day scientific applications that make it extremely valuable.
The naturally occurring element silver, or Ag, is a light-grey metal with a melting point of 961.8 degrees Celsius and a boiling point of 2,162 degrees Celsius.
It has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of any metal – more so than other popular conducting elements, such as indium and tungsten. Another key property is its reflectivity - when polished, silver becomes the most reflective surface on Earth.
Silver also prevents the growth of bacteria. Due to this process, it can replace other bacteria-preventing chemicals like chlorine in water filters, water purifiers, swimming pools, and even clothes.
Silver is in very high demand for its reflectivity, but for much more than just the backs of mirrors; it can be used in the making of crystalline solar panels. This type of solar panel is becoming more popular due to its much lighter weight created by several polymer sheets. It is also much easier to install.
Silver can also be used as air conditioning when it is applied as the first of many thin layers. When mounted onto a building, its high reflectivity turns it into a thermal radiator, allowing it to act like air conditioning for the building.
As well as normal mirrors, a more specialist requirement for the reflective properties of silver is in mirrors used in infra-red reflection imaging for telescopes. Another element that can be used for this purpose is aluminium, but silver is more effective due to its higher reflectivity and its ability to reduce thermal emissivity.
Although silver’s thermal and electrical conductivity is extremely effective, it is also very expensive. As a result, cheaper metals like copper are often used with a silver coating. This way, conductivity is increased at a much cheaper cost. Silver coated wires are used in areas of science that require the best quality of conductivity, such as radio frequency engineering.
Although much more expensive, this use of silver coating can be seen in consumer goods too. Silver coated pick-up leads for electric guitars and other instruments are popular amongst musicians who are keen to produce the best quality sound possible.