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Yttrium (Y)

QUICK REFERENCE

  • Symbol: Y
  • Atomic Number: 39
  • Atomic Weight: 88.90584
  • Element Classification: Transition Metal
  • Discovered By: Johan Gadolin
  • Discovery Date: 1794
  • Name Origin: After Ytterby, a village in Sweden where its mineral was first found
  • Density(g/cc): 4.472
  • Melting Point: 1526°C
  • Boiling Point: 3345°C
  • Appearance: Silvery metallic
  • Atomic Radius(pm): 212

Discovery

Yttrium was discovered by Finnish chemist Johan Gadolin in 1794. The discovery came after analyzing a mineral from a quarry in Ytterby, Sweden, which led to the identification of a new oxide, or “earth,” that Gadolin named “yttria.” The element yttrium was later isolated from yttria. The quarry at Ytterby is notable for being the source of many rare earth elements, not just yttrium. The naming of yttrium honors its place of discovery, reflecting the tradition of connecting new elements to their geological origins.

Relation to Other Elements

Yttrium is often classified as a transition metal and is commonly included among the rare earth elements due to its chemical and physical similarities, particularly with the lanthanides. It occupies a position in Group 3 of the periodic table, where it showcases characteristics typical of both transition metals and rare earth elements, such as forming compounds in the +3 oxidation state. Yttrium is known for its role in various high-tech applications, partly because it serves as a host for numerous lanthanide elements in different materials, enhancing their properties.

Natural Occurrence

Yttrium is not found free in nature but is extracted from rare earth minerals, including monazite and bastnasite, which contain small amounts of yttrium alongside other rare earth elements. It can also be obtained from the minerals xenotime and yttriaite. Although it is classified as a rare earth element, yttrium is fairly abundant in the Earth’s crust, comparable to that of lead, cobalt, and nickel. It is distributed in small amounts across various minerals and ores worldwide.

Uses

Yttrium has a wide range of applications in modern technology and industry:

  • Electronics and Lighting: Yttrium is used in the production of phosphors for color television screens, LED lights, and fluorescent lamps, where it helps produce bright reds.
  • Ceramics: Yttrium oxide (Y₂O₃) is added to ceramics to improve their strength, making them suitable for use in dental prosthetics and various high-temperature applications.
  • Metallurgy: Yttrium is added to alloys to improve their workability and to increase the strength of magnesium and aluminum alloys.
  • Superconductors: Yttrium barium copper oxide (YBa₂Cu₃O₇) is a high-temperature superconductor with applications in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and in research for magnetic levitation trains.
  • Medical: Yttrium-90, a radioactive isotope, is used in cancer treatment, particularly for liver cancer and certain forms of leukemia, where it is utilized in a process known as radioembolization.

The discovery of yttrium played a crucial role in the development of the field of rare earth chemistry and has facilitated advancements in various high-tech applications, from electronics to medical therapies. Its use in materials science underscores the importance of even less well-known elements in modern technology and industry.

Strontium (Sr)

Zirconium (Zr)