What is Yttrium? History, Features
Yttrium was discovered in the late 18th century, but only in the last few decades has this soft, silvery metal found widespread use in chemistry, physics, computer technology, energy, medicine, and other fields.
In the Periodic Table of the Elements, yttrium is among the transition metals, which includes some of the more well-known elements such as silver and iron. Transition metals tend to be strong but flexible, so some, such as copper and nickel, are commonly used for wires. Yttrium wires and rods are also used in electronics and solar energy. Yttrium is also used in lasers, ceramics, camera lenses and dozens of other materials.
Yttrium is also one of the rare earth elements. Despite their name, rare earth elements are quite abundant around the world. The 17 rare earth elements include yttrium, scandium, and 15 lanthanides (metallic elements with atomic numbers between 57 and 71). They have become indispensable in the production of mobile phones and other technologies.
However, yttrium is rarely used alone. Instead, researchers use it to create compounds like yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO). This helped start a new phase in high-temperature superconductivity research. Yttrium is also added to metal alloys to help increase resistance to corrosion and oxidation.
Experts state that yttrium cannot be found in general use as an element or compound. Rather, yttrium and its compounds are added to other materials to improve the properties of other materials. In all these cases, yttrium is used to stabilize the structures.
See Also: Top 5 Deadliest Elements on Earth
Informations of Yttrium Element
Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 38
Atomic symbol (in the Periodic Table of the Elements): Y
Atomic mass: 88,906
Melting point: 2,772 Fahrenheit (1,522 Celsius)
Boiling point: 6,053 F (3,345 C)
Density: 4.47 grams per cubic centimeter
Condition at room temperature: Solid
History of Yttrium
In 1787, Carl Axel Arrhenius, a lieutenant and part-time chemist in the Swedish army, discovered an unusual black rock while investigating a quarry near Ytterby, a small town near the Swedish capital, Stockholm. Thinking he had discovered a new mineral containing tungsten, Arrhenius sent the sample to Johan Gadolin, a mineralogist and chemist in Finland, for analysis.
Gadolin isolated the yttrium in the mineral, and this mineral was later named gadolinite in his honor. Yttrium got its name from Ytterby.
In 1843, a Swedish chemist named Carl Gustaf Mosander examined samples of yttrium and discovered that they contained three oxides. At that time they were called yttria, erbia and terbia. Today, they are known as white yttrium oxide, yellow terbium oxide and rose colored erbium oxide, respectively. A fourth oxide, ytterbium oxide, was described in 1878.
Although yttrium was discovered in Scandinavia, it is much more abundant in other countries. China, Russia, India, Malaysia and Australia are the leading yttrium producers. In April 2018, scientists discovered a large deposit of rare earth metals, including yttrium, on a small Japanese island called Minamitori Island. In July 2022, the element yttrium was discovered in Eşkişehir, the world’s second largest reserve.
Yttrium can be found in most rare earth minerals, but it has never been discovered as a standalone element in the Earth’s crust. Lunar rocks collected during the Apollo lunar missions contain yttrium. The human body also contains small amounts of yttrium, which is usually concentrated in the liver, kidneys, and bones.
Uses of Yttrium
Before the advent of flat-screen televisions, TV sets featured large cathode ray tubes, which are large glass tubes that project images onto the screen. Yttrium oxide doped with the element europium provided the red color in millions of color television sets.
Yttrium oxide (yttria) is added to zirconium oxide (zirconia) to make an alloy that stabilizes the crystal structure of zirconia, which normally changes with temperature. Experts state that yttria zirconia locks its cubic structure, creating an exceptionally high toughness ceramic suitable for use at very high temperatures.
“This type of ceramic is used in applications ranging from electronics to thermal barrier coatings in jet engines to medical implants.”
Synthetic garnets made with yttrium-aluminum composite were widely sold in the 1970s as simulations of diamonds and other gemstones, but were eventually replaced by cubic zirconia. Nowadays, yttrium aluminum garnets (YAG) are used as light-amplifying crystals in industrial lasers. Yttrium iron garnets are used in radar and communications technology as well as microwave filters.
Although yttrium has a multitude of applications, its biggest end uses are in ceramics and phosphors. They are used in metallurgy, glass polishing and additives and catalysts in smaller quantities. There are also numerous electronic applications, but oxygen sensors are a particularly important area of use.
Yttrium is widely used to produce phosphors used in mobile phones and larger displays, as well as in general lighting. Found in red phosphors in color television tubes, yttrium led to widespread use in the 1960s and 70s. Fluorescent tubes (linear and compact) use significantly more yttrium per watt than LED bulbs.
The radioactive isotope yttrium-90 is used in radiation therapy to treat liver cancer and some other cancers.
Current Studies of Yttrium
Yttrium is easier to work with and less expensive than many other elements. For example, researchers are using yttrium instead of the much more expensive platinum to develop fuel cells. Using yttrium and other rare earth metals in nanoparticle form, scientists at Chalmers University of Technology and the Technical University of Denmark could one day eliminate the need for fossil fuels and increase the efficiency of battery-powered cars.
Research on yttrium-based superconductivity continues around the world. Groundbreaking magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on lift trains and healthcare. In 1987, researchers at the University of Houston turned to yttrium while searching for a metal that would facilitate superconductivity at high temperatures. High-temperature superconductivity was limited to minus 420 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 251 Celsius). Physicist Paul Chu and his team at the University of Houston discovered that a compound of yttrium, barium, and copper oxide (known as Yttrium 123) can facilitate superconductivity at about minus 300 degrees F (minus 184.4 degrees C). They had created a material that could be cooled with liquid nitrogen, which would significantly reduce the cost of future superconducting applications.
Work is being done with paint and plastic companies to develop the use of YinMn blue. Its potential uses are largely due to yttrium’s unique properties. It is a lighter element, so you can have more volume without adding weight. This is very useful for paint, and in this regard, yttrium is an incredible element.