Aluminium (aluminum in North American English) is a chemical element with the symbol Al and atomic number 13. Aluminium has a density lower than those of other common metals; about one-third that of steel. It has a great affinity towards oxygen, forming a protective layer of oxide on the surface when exposed to air. Aluminium visually resembles silver, both in its color and in its great ability to reflect light. It is soft, nonmagnetic and ductile. It has one stable isotope: 27Al, which is highly abundant, making aluminium the twelfth-most common element in the universe. The radioactivity of 26Al is used in radiometric dating.
Chemically, aluminium is a post-transition metal in the boron group; as is common for the group, aluminium forms compounds primarily in the +3 oxidation state. The aluminium cation Al3+ is small and highly charged; as such, it has more polarizing power, and bonds formed by aluminium have a more covalent character. The strong affinity of aluminium for oxygen leads to the common occurrence of its oxides in nature. Aluminium is found on Earth primarily in rocks in the crust, where it is the third-most abundant element, after oxygen and silicon, rather than in the mantle, and virtually never as the free metal. It is obtained industrially by mining bauxite, a sedimentary rock rich in aluminium minerals.
The discovery of aluminium was announced in 1825 by Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted. The first industrial production of aluminium was initiated by French chemist Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville in 1856. Aluminium became much more available to the public with the Hall–Héroult process developed independently by French engineer Paul Héroult and American engineer Charles Martin Hall in 1886, and the mass production of aluminium led to its extensive use in industry and everyday life. In World Wars I and II, aluminium was a crucial strategic resource for aviation. In 1954, aluminium became the most produced non-ferrous metal, surpassing copper. In the 21st century, most aluminium was consumed in transportation, engineering, construction, and packaging in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.
Despite its prevalence in the environment, no living organism is known to use aluminium salts for metabolism, but aluminium is well tolerated by plants and animals. Because of the abundance of these salts, the potential for a biological role for them is of interest, and studies continue.