Elements for Kids
Lithium is part of the alkali metal group and can be found in the first column of the periodic table right below hydrogen. Like all alkali metals it has a single valence electron that it readily gives up to form a cation or compound.
Characteristics and Properties
At room temperature lithium is a soft metal that is silvery-white in color. It is the least dense of the solid elements and is the lightest of all the metals. It has the highest specific heat capacity of any solid element.
Lithium is very reactive and flammable. It needs to be stored in mineral oil as it will react with air or water. It can cause burns if it comes into contact with the skin.
Lithium's single valence electron allows it to be a good conductor of electricity. It is flammable and can even explode when exposed to air and water. However, it is less reactive and explosive than the other alkali metals.
Where is lithium found on Earth?
Because it is so reactive, lithium is not found in its pure form in nature. However, it is found throughout the world in a variety of areas including seawater, mineral springs, and igneous rocks.
How is lithium used today?
Lithium is used in a variety of applications. Probably the one you are most familiar with is lithium batteries. Around 27% of lithium used for industry is used in batteries. Another major application is in the manufacture of ceramics and glass. Other applications include lubricating greases, high performance aircraft materials, and anti-depression drugs.
How was it discovered?
Lithium was first detected as an element by Swedish chemist Johann August Arfvedson in 1817 when he was analyzing petalite ore. It was isolated in its pure form a year later by English chemist Humphry Davy.
Where did lithium get its name?
Lithium comes from the Greek word "lithos" meaning "stone" or "rock". It was named by Johann Arfvedson (who also discovered it).
Lithium has seven isotopes of which two are stable. When Lithium is found naturally it occurs as a mixture of the two stable isotopes.
Interesting Facts about Lithium
- Although it is a metal, it is soft enough to cut with a knife.
- It is so light it can float on water.
- Lithium fires are difficult to put out. You can't use water as water will react with the lithium and could make the fire worse. A powder fire extinguisher is needed.
- Along with hydrogen and helium, lithium was one of the three elements produced in large quantities by the Big Bang.
- When burning, lithium gives off a bright red flame.
- Because it is the lightest metal, it can be alloyed with other metals such as aluminum and copper to make strong lightweight metals.
- Lithium hydroxide can be used to purify air and remove carbon dioxide in spacecraft and submarines.
More on the Elements and the Periodic Table
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