Elements for Kids
Beryllium is a very rare metal that is almost never found in its pure form. It is part of the alkaline earth metals group which makeup the second column of the period table.
Characteristics and Properties
In its free state beryllium is a strong, but brittle metal. It is silver-gray metallic in color.
Beryllium is very lightweight, but has one of the highest melting points of all the light metal elements. It is also nonmagnetic and has a very high thermal conductivity.
Beryllium is considered a carcinogen, meaning that it can cause cancer in humans. It is also toxic or poisonous to humans and should be handled with care and never tasted or inhaled.
Where is beryllium found on earth?
Beryllium is most often found in the minerals beryl and bertrandite. It is found in the Earth's crust and mostly in igneous (volcanic) rocks. Most of the world's beryllium is mined and extracted in the United States and Russia with the state of Utah supplying nearly two-thirds of the world's beryllium production.
Beryllium is also found in gems such as the emerald and aquamarine.
How is beryllium used today?
Beryllium is used in a number of applications. Many of its uses are high tech or military. One application is in windows for X-ray machines. Beryllium is somewhat unique in its ability to appear transparent to X-rays. Another use is as a moderator and a shield in nuclear reactors.
Beryllium is also used to make metal alloys such as beryllium copper and beryllium nickel. These alloys are used to make surgical instruments, precision instruments, and non-sparking tools that are used near flammable gases.
How was it discovered?
In 1798 French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin was asked to do an analysis of emerald and beryl by mineralogist Rene Hauy. While analyzing the substances, Louis found a new substance found in both of them. He originally called it a new kind of "earth" and it was soon named "glucinum" for its sweet taste (note: never taste it because it is very poisonous).
Where did beryllium get its name?
In 1828 the first pure beryllium was isolated by German chemist Friedrich Wohler. He didn't like the name "glucinum" for the element so he renamed it beryllium meaning "from the mineral beryl".
There are 12 known isotopes of beryllium, but only one (Beryllium-9) is stable. Beryllium-10 is produced when cosmic rays strike oxygen in the atmosphere.
Interesting Facts about Beryllium
- Louis Nicolas Vauquelin also discovered the element chromium.
- A beryllium atom has four electrons and four protons.
- It was originally discovered in a compound with oxygen called beryllium oxide.
- Alloys with beryllium can produce a hard, tough, and lightweight metal that is used for spacecraft, missiles, satellites, and high-speed airplanes.
- Too much exposure to beryllium can cause a lung disease called berylliosis.
More on the Elements and the Periodic Table
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