Thursday, November 17, 2011

Element of the Month: Terbium!

November's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 158.925  amu
Melting Point: 1356 °C
Boiling Point: 3230 °C

With October Element of the Month Ytterbium fresh in your mind, you of course recall the little Swedish village of Ytterby and its prolific quarry o' elements.  Well, we return to the same stomping this month with Terbium, yet another element that was discovered by a brainy Swede (Carl Gustaf Mosander) sifting through the rocks from the self same hole in the ground.

Now, just because you can't say "Ytterbium" without saying "Terbium" doesn't mean that the one is a component of the other.  It doesn't work that way.  They are Elements!  The fundamental building blocks of matter!  And so are as different as Iron and Oxygen!  Except, you would never know it from looking at their characteristics.  Terbium really seems an awful lot like Ytterbium.  It is, for instance, a rare silvery element that never occurs in isolation, but only as a trace element in minerals that are themselves pretty unusual.  At one part per million of the Earth's crust, it's not incredibly rare -- there's a hell of a lot more of it around than, say, gold, silver, or platinum -- but since it is always diffused through agglomerations of other Elements it has never attracted much attention.

The Centerfold!

Like Ytterbium, Terbium is used as a dopant (devoted readers will recall the analogy of the peppier.)  The biggest use of Terbium in the human community is in its oxide form, which is used in fluorescent lighting technologies.

Here's something weird: looking at commodities charts, it seems that the price of Terbium has increased six-fold over the course of 2011.  Aside from a few mild news articles to the effect that China has an essential monopoly on rare earths and can therefore charge whatever it likes, there doesn't seem to have been much comment on this astronomical rise.  We may well be in the grips of a Terbium crisis, but nor am I entirely sure that the numbers aren't cooked for the benefit of stock scammers.  Regardless, if you have been hording raw Terbium, this might be a good moment to cash in.

1 comment:

Chuckdaddy said...