(i) All the alkali elements are silvery white solid. These are soft in nature and can be cut with the help of knife except the lithium. When freshly cut, they have a bright lusture which quickly fades due to surface oxidation. These are highly malleable and ductile. The silvery luster of alkali metals is due to the presence of highly mobile electrons of the metallic lattice. There being only a single electron per atom, the metallic bonding is not so strong. As the result, the metals are soft in nature. However, the softness increases with increase in atomic number due to continuous decrease in metallic bond strength on account of an increase in atomic size.
(ii) Atomic and Ionic radii
The atoms of alkali metals have the largest size in their respective periods. The atomic radii increase on moving down the group among the alkali metals.
On moving down the group a new shell is progressively added. Although, the nuclear charge also increases down the group but the effect of addition of new shells is more predominant due to increasing screening effect of inner filled shell on the valence s-electrons. Hence the atomic size increases in a group.
Alkali metals change into positively charged ions by losing their valence electron. The size of cation is smaller than parent atom of alkali metals. However, within the group the ionic radii increase with increases in atomic number.
The alkali metal ions get extensively hydrated in aqueous solutions. Smaller the ion more is the extent or degree of hydration. Thus, the ionic radii in aqueous solution follow the order
Li+ > Na+ > K+ > Rb+ > Cs+
The charge density on Li+ is higher in comparison to other alkali metals due to which it is extensively hydrated.
(iii) Ionization Energy (Ionization enthalpy)
The first ionization energy of the alkali metals are the lowest as compared to the elements in the other group. The ionization energy of alkali metals decreases down the group.
The size of alkali metals is largest in their respective period. So the outermost electron experiences less force of attraction from the nucleus and hence can be easily removed.
The value of ionization energy decreases down the group because the size of metal increases due to the addition of new shell along with increase in the magnitude of screening effect.
(iv) Oxidation State
The alkali metals show +1 oxidation state. The alkali metals can easily loose their valence electron and change into uni-positive ions
M → M+ + e-
Due to low ionization energy, the alkali metals can easily lose their valence electron and gain stable noble gas configuration. But the alkali metals cannot form ions as the magnitude of second ionization energy is very high.
The alkali metals have low values of reduction potential (as shown in table-I) and therefore have a strong tendency to lose electrons and act as good reducing agents. The reducing character increases from sodium to caesium. However lithium is the strongest reducing agent.
The alkali metals have low value of ionization energy which decreases down the group and so can easily lose their valence electron and thus act as good reducing agents.
(vi) Melting and Boiling Points
The melting and boiling points of alkali metals are very low because the intermetallic bonds in them are quite weak. And this decreases with increase in atomic number with increases in atomic size.
The densities of alkali metals are quite low as compared to other metals. Li, Na and K are even lighter than water. The density increases from Li to Cs.
Due to their large size, the atoms of alkali metals are less closely packed. Consequently have low density. On going down the group, both the atomic size and atomic mass increase but the increase in atomic mass compensates the bigger atomic size. As a result, the density of alkali metals increases from Li to Cs. Potassium is however lighter than sodium. It is probably due to an unusal increase in atomic size of potassium.
(viii) Nature of bond formed
All the alkali metals form ionic (electrovalent) compounds. The ionic character increases from Li to Cs because the alkali metals have low value of ionization energies which decreases down the group and hence tendency to give electron increases to form electropositive ion.
The alkali metals are good conductors of heat and electricity. This is due to the presence of loosely held valence electrons which are free to move throughout the metal structure.
(x) Photoelectric Effect
Alkali metals (except Li) exhibit photoelectric effect (A phenomenon of emission of electrons from the surface of metal when light falls on them). The ability to exhibit photoelectric effect is due to low value of ionization energy of alkali metals. Li does not emit photoelectrons due to high value of ionization energy.
(xi) Flame colouration
The alkali metals and their salts impart a characteristic colour to flame