Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January's Element of the Month: Tantalum!

January's Element of the Month:

Atomic Mass: 180.9479 amu
Melting Point: 3017 °C
Boiling Point: 5458 °C

Don't feel bad that you don't know much about Tantalum; it took the world's chemists more than half a century to figure out what was up with this rare metal. The problem was that it only occurs naturally along with its sister element, Niobium, and people had a hell of a time deciding whether they were both the same thing, or different, or if there were three or even four different elements present in their mineral forms. It wasn't until the time of the U.S. Civil War that it all got sorted out, and chemists who had made their reputations by discovering Columbium and Ilmenium presumably slunk off humiliated into the footnotes when it became awkwardly clear that these elements didn't exist after all.

The Centerfold!

With our fancy modern technology, it's actually pretty easy to isolate Tantalum, which is very hard but ductile, highly conductive to both heat and electricity, and acid-resistant. As you might guess from that list of characteristics, brainy engineering types have found myriad ways to put this stuff to use! It's used in alloys for jet engine and other aerospace parts, in surgical implants and instruments, and for corrosion-resistant pipes and vessels. On its own, it is used a lot in electronic components and sees occasional duty in such life-enhancing applications as armor-piercing explosive charges and excessively fancy watches.

Want some? As only the 52nd most common element here on the crust of the Earth, where the L&TM5K is written, it's can be hard to come by. Fortunately, the good people of Brazil and Canada, countries where it is mined, are willing to sell some on the international commodities market. It will put you back about eighty bucks a kilogram, roughly the same price as uranium, pure iodine, high-quality crab, or Minki whale meat.


Yankee in England said...

Every month when I see you element of the month post it makes me think of the song by Tom Lehrer(sp?) that goes through the periodic table of elements. Link included for enjoyment.


mrs.5000 said...

All quite tantalizing, of course.

Jenners said...

Is it wrong that I actually like these posts and find this a very atrractive element? SHINY!

chuckdaddy said...

So that's what my implants are made from...

poiu0987 said...

Columbium and Niobium are the same element. The names are used interchangeably. The name Niobium was chosen as the international standard in 1949.

Michael5000 said...

@poiu0987: Word. But, as I understand it, "Columbium" was also a label slapped on at least a couple of other substances as well that either ended up with a different moniker in the long run, or turned out not to be elements after all.

Thanks for visiting.