Gold and Silver atoms interact with one another to form reasonably strong metallic bonds, but surprisingly they have almost no chemical interaction with atmosphere. How can we explain it based on the atomic structure of Gold and Silver. What is so unique about its chemical structure that is not present in other transition metals that makes them noble (non-reactive)?

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    $\begingroup$ Silver, compared to Gold, has a huge chemical interaction with the atmosphere: it tarnishes quite easily. $\endgroup$
    – mannaia
    Mar 24, 2014 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @mannaia You took advantage of the vague title :D Polishing silverware is a major pain in the lower back ;) $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2014 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, they do interact with atmosphere. Both gold and silver adsorb oxygen from the atmosphere and can form surface oxide. $\endgroup$
    – permeakra
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


Copper, silver, gold. What is the energy of the highest "s" orbital versus the highest "d" orbital? Gold is a very heavy nucleus. An "s" orbital has non-zero probability at its nucleus. Special relativity effects make its "s" electrons more massive, bringing them into the atom.

A silver atom is a soft Lewis acid. It reacts well with large soft Lewis bases. Silver quickly tarnishes with sulfide. Gold is not chemically inert at all to even mild oxidation if the product cation is coordinated by ligands. Salt water plus air will tarnish gold. Dilute cyanide plus air will dissolve it (e.g., heap leaching of gold ore).

Thermodynamics proposes, kinetics disposes. Aluminum is tremendously reactive toward air and water. Anything that permanently breaches its adherent oxide coating (e.g., abrasion plus amalgamation) sets it off.

  • $\begingroup$ Note its the presence of sulphides in sea water (and other sources) that corrode both gold and silver. Simple sodium chloride without oxidisers more powerful than oxygen won't corrode silver or gold. $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2014 at 7:01

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