Friday, September 26, 2014

Element of the Month: Lutetium!

September's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 174.9668 amu
Melting Point: 1652°C
Boiling Point: 3402°C

Lutetium is one of those rare earth elements that are rare enough, and reactive enough, that they are darned tough to find. If you want to mine Lutetium, do you look for a Lutetium outcrop? No. A Lutetium seam? No. No veins. No nuggets. The best you are going to be able to do is find a good source of the mineral Monazite, which may turn out to be as much as 0.0001% Lutetium. This goes a long way towards explaining why a kilo of Lutetium has a street value of around $10,000.

Lutetium is so hard to find, in fact, that even the cleverest humans with very large books didn't figure it out until 1907. In that year, a Frenchman, an Austrian, and an American walked into a bar. No, that's not right. Rather, a Frenchman, an Austrian, and an American, each of them in their own chemistry lab, were worrying about impurities in their Ytterbium. More or less at the same time, they realized they had found a new element: Cassiopeium! Except, after the years bitter incriminations that always follow from this kind of story of scientific discovery, the French guy finally prevailed.  He had to compromise only on having the C in his proposed name of "Lutecium" changed to a T. Lutetia, by the by, was the name of the Roman-era town that would become Paris, so Lutetium is a sneaky entry on the list of elements named after towns, like Yttrium, Berkeylium, Darmstadtium, and equally sneaky Holmium.

The Centerfold!

It's a sample of Lutetium, or it might as well be.

Lutetium is of course a silvery-white metal like pretty much everything else. It is used by humans for this and that, but really not for all that much. After all, it is really freaking rare and expensive. For most things that you want to use matter for, wood or steel is just going to be a more practical choice.

The folks at Avalon Rare Metals tell us that
Lutetium is the densest and hardest of the rare earths, lacks a magnetic moment, and has the highest melting point of the rare earths. These attributes may be due to the property of lanthanide contraction, which gives it the smallest atomic radius of the rare earths.
If you can remember that much about Lutetium, you are probably well ahead of the curve.

Lutetium, by Charles Yates, as offered for sale in a
number of formats at


DrSchnell said...

I was just worrying about impurities in my Ytterbium the other day, but I didn't let it get to me. Thus, my lack of element finding, I guess. The take-home lesson: worry, and become sorta famous!

Michael5000 said...

Eh, I tend to worry about impurities in my Ytterbium, slack on the literature review, and rediscover Lutetium.

Michael5000 said...

I'll go with the abstract colors of the Yates over... oh, wait, it's not a Tournament post.