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Scandium (Sc)

QUICK REFERENCE

  • Symbol: Sc
  • Atomic Number: 21
  • Atomic Weight: 44.955908
  • Element Classification: Transition Metal
  • Discovered By: Lars Fredrik Nilson
  • Discovery Date: 1879
  • Name Origin: Latin: ‘Scandia’ (Scandinavia)
  • Density(g/cc): 2.989 (at 20°C)
  • Melting Point: 1541°C
  • Boiling Point: 2836°C
  • Appearance: Silvery-white, soft metal
  • Atomic Radius(pm): 162

Discovery

Scandium was discovered in 1879 by Swedish chemist Lars Fredrik Nilson. He isolated scandium by analyzing the minerals euxenite and gadolinite, where he detected a new element that matched Dmitri Mendeleev’s prediction for “ekaboron”, an element he had postulated to exist based on gaps in his periodic table. Nilson named the new element scandium, after Scandinavia. The discovery of scandium was a significant validation of Mendeleev’s periodic table, demonstrating the power of the table to predict the properties and existence of unknown elements.

Relation to Other Elements

Scandium is classified as a transition metal, situated in group 3 of the periodic table. It shares properties with both the rare earth elements (particularly yttrium and the lanthanides) and the lighter transition metals. Scandium’s chemistry is characterized by the +3 oxidation state; it forms scandium(III) compounds, which are similar in properties to those of aluminum, reflecting its position above aluminum in the periodic table. Though not a rare earth metal, scandium is often associated with them due to its occurrence in rare earth minerals and similar chemical properties.

Natural Occurrence

Scandium is relatively rare in the Earth’s crust, found in trace amounts in over 800 mineral species. The most significant sources of scandium are the minerals thortveitite, euxenite, and gadolinite. However, it is usually obtained as a byproduct of uranium and tungsten ore processing. Due to its scarcity and the difficulty of separating it from other elements, pure scandium metal is quite expensive and challenging to produce.

Uses

Despite its rarity, scandium has several valuable applications:

  • Alloys: Scandium is used to strengthen aluminum alloys, which are used in aerospace components, sports equipment (like baseball bats and bicycle frames), and military applications. A small addition of scandium significantly enhances the strength, weldability, and corrosion resistance of aluminum.
  • Electronics: Scandium iodide is used in metal halide lamps, where it helps produce high-intensity light that closely resembles natural sunlight, beneficial for television and film production lighting.
  • Research: Due to its unique properties, scandium is of interest in various scientific research areas, including materials science and chemistry.

The discovery of scandium added a new dimension to the periodic table and the understanding of element properties. While not as widely used as more common metals, the specific applications of scandium and its alloys showcase the importance of even the less abundant elements in advancing technology and materials science.

Calcium (Ca)

Titanium (Ti)