Calcium is a chemical element with the symbol Ca and atomic number 20. As an alkaline earth metal, it is a reactive metal that forms a dark oxide-nitride layer when exposed to air. Its physical and chemical properties are most similar to its heavier homologues strontium and barium. It is the fifth most abundant element in Earth’s crust and the third most abundant metal, after iron and aluminium. The most common calcium compound on Earth is calcium carbonate, found in limestone and the fossilised remnants of early sea life; gypsum, anhydrite, fluorite, and apatite are also sources of calcium. The name derives from Latin calx “lime”, which was obtained from heating limestone.
Some calcium compounds were known to the ancients, though their chemistry was unknown until the seventeenth century. Pure calcium was isolated in 1808 via electrolysis of its oxide by Humphry Davy, who named the element. Calcium compounds are widely used in many industries: in foods and pharmaceuticals for its supplementation, in the paper industry as bleaches, as components in cement and electrical insulators, and in the manufacture of soaps. On the other hand, the metal in pure form has few applications due to its high reactivity; still, in small quantities it is often used as an alloying component in steelmaking, and sometimes, as a calcium–lead alloy, in making automotive batteries.
It is the most abundant metal and the fifth-most abundant element in the human body. As electrolytes, calcium ions play a vital role in the physiological and biochemical processes of organisms and cells: in signal transduction pathways where they act as a second messenger; in neurotransmitter release from neurons; in contraction of all muscle cell types; as cofactors in many enzymes; and in fertilization. It’s ions outside cells are important for maintaining the potential difference across excitable cell membranes, protein synthesis, and bone formation.
Itis a very ductile silvery metal (sometimes described as pale yellow) whose properties are very similar to the heavier elements in its group, strontium, barium, and radium. A calcium atom has twenty electrons, arranged in the electron configuration [Ar]4s2. Like the other elements placed in group 2 of the periodic table, it has two valence electrons in the outermost s-orbital, which are very easily lost in chemical reactions to form a dipositive ion with the stable electron configuration of a noble gas, in this case argon. Hence, it is almost always divalent in its compounds, which are usually ionic. Hypothetical univalent salts of calcium would be stable with respect to their elements, but not to disproportionation to the divalent salts and calcium metal, because the enthalpy of formation of MX2 is much higher than those of the hypothetical MX. This occurs because of the much greater lattice energy afforded by the more highly charged Ca2+ cation compared to the hypothetical Ca+ cation.
Calcium, strontium, barium, and radium are always considered to be alkaline earth metals; the lighter beryllium and magnesium, also in group 2 of the periodic table, are often included as well. Nevertheless, beryllium and magnesium are significantly different from the other members of the group in their physical and chemical behaviour: they behave more like aluminium and zinc respectively and have some of the weaker metallic character of the post-transition metals, which is why the traditional definition of the term “alkaline earth metal” excludes them. This classification is mostly obsolete in English-language sources, but is still used in other countries such as Japan. As a result, comparisons with strontium and barium are more germane to calcium chemistry than comparisons with magnesium.
The metal melts at 842 °C and boils at 1494 °C; these values are higher than those for magnesium and strontium, the neighbouring group 2 metals. It crystallises in the face-centered cubic arrangement like strontium; above 450 °C, it changes to an anisotropic hexagonal close-packed arrangement like magnesium. Its density of 1.55 g/cm3 is the lowest in its group. It is harder than lead but can be cut with a knife with effort. While calcium is a poorer conductor of electricity than copper or aluminium by volume, it is a better conductor by mass than both due to its very low density. While metal is infeasible as a conductor for most terrestrial applications as it reacts quickly with atmospheric oxygen, its use as such in space has been considered.
The largest use of metallic calcium is in steelmaking, due to its strong chemical affinity for oxygen and sulfur. Its oxides and sulfides, once formed, give liquid lime aluminate and sulfide inclusions in steel which float out; on treatment, these inclusions disperse throughout the steel and became small and spherical, improving castability, cleanliness and general mechanical properties. It is also used in maintenance-free automotive batteries, in which the use of 0.1% calcium–lead alloys instead of the usual antimony–lead alloys leads to lower water loss and lower self-discharging. Due to the risk of expansion and cracking, aluminium is sometimes also incorporated into these alloys. These lead–calcium alloys are also used in casting, replacing lead–antimony alloys. It is also used to strengthen aluminium alloys used for bearings, for the control of graphitic carbon in cast iron, and to remove bismuth impurities from lead. Its metal is found in some drain cleaners, where it functions to generate heat and calcium hydroxide that saponifies the fats and liquefies the proteins (for example, those in hair) that block drains. Besides metallurgy, the reactivity of calcium is exploited to remove nitrogen from high-purity argon gas and as a getter for oxygen and nitrogen. It is also used as a reducing agent in the production of chromium, zirconium, thorium, and uranium. It can also be used to store hydrogen gas, as it reacts with hydrogen to form solid calcium hydride, from which the hydrogen can easily be re-extracted.
Calcium isotope fractionation during mineral formation has led to several applications of calcium isotopes. In particular, the 1997 observation by Skulan and DePaolo that calcium minerals are isotopically lighter than the solutions from which the minerals precipitate is the basis of analogous applications in medicine and in paleooceanography. In animals with skeletons mineralized with calcium, the calcium isotopic composition of soft tissues reflects the relative rate of formation and dissolution of skeletal mineral. In humans, changes in the calcium isotopic composition of urine have been shown to be related to changes in bone mineral balance. When the rate of bone formation exceeds the rate of bone resorption, the 44Ca/40Ca ratio in soft tissue rises and vice versa. Because of this relationship, calcium isotopic measurements of urine or blood may be useful in the early detection of metabolic bone diseases like osteoporosis. A similar system exists in seawater, where 44Ca/40Ca tends to rise when the rate of removal of Ca2+ by mineral precipitation exceeds the input of new calcium into the ocean. In 1997, Skulan and DePaolo presented the first evidence of change in seawater 44Ca/40Ca over geologic time, along with a theoretical explanation of these changes. More recent papers have confirmed this observation, demonstrating that seawater Ca2+ concentration is not constant, and that the ocean is never in a “steady state” with respect to calcium input and output. This has important climatological implications, as the marine calcium cycle is closely tied to the carbon cycle.
Many calcium compounds are used in food, as pharmaceuticals, and in medicine, among others. For example, calcium and phosphorus are supplemented in foods through the addition of calcium lactate, calcium diphosphate, and tricalcium phosphate. The last is also used as a polishing agent in toothpaste and in antacids. Calcium lactobionate is a white powder that is used as a suspending agent for pharmaceuticals. In baking, calcium monophosphate is used as a leavening agent. Calcium sulfite is used as a bleach in papermaking and as a disinfectant, calcium silicate is used as a reinforcing agent in rubber, and calcium acetate is a component of liming rosin and is used to make metallic soaps and synthetic resins.
Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, sardines, salmon, soy products, kale, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Because of concerns for long-term adverse side effects, including calcification of arteries and kidney stones, both the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for combined dietary and supplemental calcium. From the IOM, people of ages 9–18 years are not to exceed 3 g/day combined intake; for ages 19–50, not to exceed 2.5 g/day; for ages 51 and older, not to exceed 2 g/day. EFSA set the UL for all adults at 2.5 g/day, but decided the information for children and adolescents was not sufficient to determine ULs.
Because it reacts exothermically with water and acids, calcium metal coming into contact with bodily moisture results in severe corrosive irritation. When swallowed, its metal has the same effect on the mouth, oesophagus, and stomach, and can be fatal. However, long-term exposure is not known to have distinct adverse effects.