Zinc is the element most commonly found in the Earth’s crust. Sphalerite is the most common zinc ore. In various forms, zinc was used as early as 3,000 years B.C., from Greece to West India. However, it was only produced on a large scale in Europe in the 16th century, 4 centuries later than in India, and it was only discovered in pure metallic form by a German chemist in the mid 18th century. Fifty years later, Galvani and Volta made it famous through their electrochemical tests (the name galvanization derives from Luigi Galvani).
Zinc is a diamagnetic metal (i.e. repelled by magnetic materials) of a white-blue color, that becomes malleable at temperatures above 100 Celsius degrees. It is a good conductor of electricity, and is common in various alloys, including brass, and reacts with various non-metals.
Zinc was and is still used in plating because of its anti-corrosive properties. It is also used in batteries, and its alloys and compounds are also very common in contemporary life. Some of the products that use zinc are:
In the human body, zinc is an essential element. It helps in the metabolism of RNA and DNA, in the processing of proteins, in modulating neural responses and many other functions. There are serious consequences to decreased zinc levels (from diarrhea, impotence and skin lesions to cognition problems), just as there are serious consequences to excess zinc levels. There are natural zinc sources such as various types of protein foods and even some plants, as well as various beans and nut types. Other sources are dietary supplements and zinc-enriched foods, although they appear to be less effective.
Zinc can easily contaminate the soil and water in areas where it is naturally present or mined. When ingested in excess, whether voluntarily through supplements or involuntarily through exposure to contaminated soil or water, zinc can cause various health problems.