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Erbium (Er)

QUICK REFERENCE

  • Symbol: Er
  • Atomic Number: 68
  • Atomic Weight: 167.259
  • Element Classification: Lanthanide
  • Discovered By: Carl Gustaf Mosander
  • Discovery Date: 1843
  • Name Origin: Named after Ytterby, a village in Sweden, where its mineral was first found
  • Density(g/cc): 9.066
  • Melting Point: 1529°C
  • Boiling Point: 2868°C
  • Appearance: Silvery-white, soft, malleable, and ductile metal
  • Atomic Radius(pm): 176

Discovery

Erbium was discovered in 1843 by the Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander, who separated it from other rare earth elements. Mosander extracted erbium, along with terbium and ytterbium, from the mineral gadolinite, which was found in the Ytterby mine in Sweden. The element was named after the village of Ytterby, making it one of four elements named after this site, reflecting its historical significance in the discovery of rare earth elements.

Relation to Other Elements

Erbium is a member of the lanthanide series, which consists of fifteen chemically similar elements. Like other lanthanides, erbium is known for its magnetic properties and its ability to form trivalent compounds. Erbium, characterized by its pink-colored erbium(III) ions, contributes to the coloration of glasses and other materials. It is relatively stable in air compared to some of the more reactive rare earth metals.

Natural Occurrence

Erbium is not found free in nature but occurs in several minerals, including xenotime, euxenite, and, most commonly, monazite and bastnasite, which are primary sources of rare earth elements. These minerals contain small amounts of erbium alongside other lanthanides, requiring complex separation processes to produce pure erbium metal or compounds.

Uses

Erbium has specialized applications, benefiting from its unique optical and magnetic properties:

  • Fiber Optics: Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers (EDFAs) are used in fiber optic communication systems to amplify the signal without the need to convert it back to an electrical signal. Erbium’s ability to amplify light in the 1.5-micrometer range, where loss in optical fibers is lowest, makes it ideal for long-distance communication.
  • Lasers: Erbium-doped lasers are used in medical applications, particularly in dermatology, for skin resurfacing, and in dentistry, due to their ability to interact precisely with biological tissues.
  • Glass and Ceramics: Erbium oxides are used to color glasses, ceramics, and sunglasses in pink and to provide UV absorption properties.
  • Nuclear Technology: Like other rare earth elements, erbium can be used in nuclear technology as a neutron absorber due to its high neutron capture cross-section.

The discovery of erbium and the development of its applications, especially in fiber optics and medical lasers, have significantly impacted telecommunications and medical technology, showcasing the critical role of lanthanides in modern science and industry.

 

Dysprosium (Dy)

Thulium (Tm)