Periodic Table -> Erbium


Erbium Details

Erbium Symbol: Er

Erbium Atomic Number: 68

Erbium Atomic Weight: 167.26

What is Erbium?

Erbium is a chemical element that is part of the lanthanide series. The so-called lanthanide elements include the fifteen metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers ranging from 57 to 71, as well as scandium and yttrium. The last two are not lanthanide elements, strictly speaking, but are categorized along with them because they are chemically similar. This series is known to constitute the rare earth elements. The name of these elements is misleading because they are actually not rare at all. They are called "rare" because they are rarely found in concentrated and exploitable forms. When they are, they are considered part of the “rare earth mineral series”. So, then, erbium has the symbol Er and the atomic number 68. When found in nature, Er is always found as part of a compound with another or other elements. When isolated it is silvery-white in color and solid.

The element was discovered in a quarry near the Swedish town Ytterby. The Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander separated gadolinite into 3 materials and named them terbia, erbia, and yttria. This happened in 1843. Because of their similar properties and names, researchers soon confused two of them, terbia and erbia. Their names were reversed by 1877. Mosander discovered two other elements from these two – erbium and terbium. Today, the former is mainly produced from the minerals euxenite and xenotime.

There are several practical applications of Er, among which as optical amplification media glasses and crystals and in dermatology, dentistry, and other subfields of medicine. When alloyed with vanadium, erbium makes it softer to touch and easier to shape. The element is also used as a doping agent in fiber optic cables. It is thus used as a signal amplifier. There are some uses of the element in the nuclear power industry as well. Erbium oxide is a compound of erbium. Due to its pink color, erbium oxide is used to color glazes and glasses. Other compounds of erbium include erbium chloride, erbium fluoride, and erbium iodide.

Er is a trivalent element. When in pure form, it is easily shaped, soft but stable, and does not oxidize very quickly. The salts of the element are rose-colored. Its chemical and physical properties are different depending on the kind and amount of impurities that are part of it. Er is believed to enhance the human metabolism rate.

This element can be ferromagnetic, antiferromagnetic, and paramagnetic depending on the temperature. It has these properties at below 19 K (degrees in Kelvin), between 19 and 80 K, and above 80 K, respectively.

The metal erbium burns when in contact with air, forming erbium (III) oxide. It shows a slow reaction with cold water, but a very fast one with hot water, and forms erbium hydroxide. It has a reaction with every halogen and dissolves in dilute sulfuric acid easily, forming solutions that contain hydrated Er (III) ions. Er has six stable isotopes – 162 Er, 164 Er, 166 Er, 167 Er, 168 Er, and 170 Er. Er 166 is found in the highest quantities in nature. The most stable isotope is 169 (of the radioactive ones). It has the longest half-life of all the radioactive isotopes of Er - 9.4 days.

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