# P3: Activity Series of Metals

The reactivity series is a series of metals, in order of reactivity from highest to lowest. It is used to determine the products of single displacement reactions, whereby metal A will replace another metal B in a solution if A is higher in the series. Activity series of some of the more common metals, listed in descending order of reactivity.

Metals Metal Ion Reactivity
K K+ reacts with water
Na Na+ reacts with water
Li Li+ reacts with water
Ba Ba2+ reacts with water
Sr Sr2+ reacts with water
Ca Ca2+ reacts with water
Mg Mg2+ reacts with acids
Al Al3+ reacts with acids
Mn Mn2+ reacts with acids
Zn Zn2+ reacts with acids
Cr Cr2+ reacts with acids
Fe Fe2+ reacts with acids
Cd Cd2+ reacts with acids
Co Co2+ reacts with acids
Ni Ni2+ reacts with acids
Sn Sn2+ reacts with acids
Pb Pb2+ reacts with acids
H2 H+ included for comparison
Sb Sb2+ highly unreactive
Bi Bi2+ highly unreactive
Cu Cu2+ highly unreactive
Hg Hg2+ highly unreactive
Ag Ag+ highly unreactive
Au Au3+ highly unreactive
Pt Pt+ highly unreactive

When a metal in elemental form is placed in a solution of another metal salt it may be more energetically feasible for this "elemental metal" to exist as an ion and the "ionic metal" to exist as the element. Therefore the elemental metal will "displace" the ionic metal and the two swap places.

Only a metal higher in the reactivity series will displace another.

A metal can displace metal ions listed below it in the activity series, but not above. For example, zinc is more active than copper and is able to displace copper ions from solution

$Zn(s) + Cu^{2+}(aq) \rightarrow Zn^{2+}(aq) + Cu(s)$

However, silver cannot displace copper ions from solution. It is important to distinguish between the displacement of hydrogen from an acid and hydrogen from water. Sodium is highly active and is able to displace hydrogen from water:

$2 Na (s) + 2 H_2O (l) \rightarrow 2 NaOH (aq) + H_2 (g)$

Less active metals like iron or zinc cannot displace hydrogen from water but do readily react with acids:

$Zn (s) + H_2SO_4 (aq) \rightarrow ZnSO_4 (aq) + H_2 (g)$

Those metals that can displace H+ ions from acids are easily recognized by their position above H in the activity series. The boundary between the metals that react with water and those that don't is harder to spot. For example, calcium is quite reactive with water, whereas magnesium does not react with cold water but does displace hydrogen from steam. A more sophisticated calculation involving electrode potentials is required to make accurate predictions in this area.

## Origin

The reactivity of metals is due to the difference in stability of their electron configurations as atoms and as ions. As they are all metals they will form positive ions when they react.

Potassium has a single outer shell electron to lose to obtain a stable "Noble gas" electron configuration; the precious metals which exist in the d-block cannot form structures which are much more stable than their elemental state with the loss of just a few electrons. Metals that require the loss of only one electron to form stable ions are more reactive than similar metals which require the loss of more than one electron. Group 1A metals are the most reactive for that reason.

Metals with a greater total number of electrons tend to be more reactive as their outermost electrons (the ones which will be lost) exist further from the positive nucleus and therefore they are held less strongly.