Beryllium (Be)

Beryllium is a brittle, grey alkaline earth metal with good electrical and heat conductivity and a resistance to oxidation. It can be found in around 30 minerals but only beryl (a beryllium aluminium silicate), chrysoberyl and phenacite have any uses. The nucleus of the only natural isotope consists of four protons and five neutrons.

Essential Facts

Atomic number 4
Name Beryllium
Symbol Be
Atomic mass 9.012
Classification Alkaline earth metal
State at 20°C Solid
Melting point 1278°C
Boiling point 2970°C

History

Nicolas-Louis Vauquelin discovered beryllium oxide in 1798 in beryl and emeralds, but it wasn’t until 1828 that the pure metal was isolated. In 1863 the name beryllium was coined by combining bēryllus (Latin for beryl) with the New Latin suffix -ium. The element has also been known as glucinium due to some of its compounds having a sweet taste.

Isotopes

The only natural isotope of beryllium, beryllium-9, is stable. Two other isotopes have been created artificially but are unstable. When created, beryllium-8 almost immediately splits into two alpha particles. Beryllium-10 exists for much longer, having a half-life of 2.7 million years.

Production

Beryl is the only beryllium-bearing ore that is useful on an industrial scale. It is usually obtained as a by-product of mining for other materials. The presence of beryllium in a mixture of materials can be detected using a device called a berylometer. The radioactive isotope antimony-124 emits gamma rays that interact with beryllium. The neutrons given off by this interaction can be detected showing the presence of beryllium.

Extraction of beryllium metal from the beryl mineral is via several processes. Firstly, various processes can be employed to extract either beryllium oxide or beryllium hydroxide, including treating with acids. These compounds can then be converted into beryllium fluoride.

Beryllium metal can be extracted from beryllium fluoride by heating it with magnesium. It can also be obtained by the electrolysis of beryllium chloride. Finally, vacuum melting can purify the results.

Uses

Beryllium can be used as a hardener in some alloys. For example, in applications where sparking from tools may be dangerous, copper is a safe material to use. But copper is quite soft. However, with the addition of small quantities of beryllium, safe but hard wearing copper-beryllium alloy tools can be manufactured.

Beryllium can be added to other metal alloys to give them a protective film against oxidation. For example, adding beryllium to silver alloys reduces the rate of tarnishing. Beryllium has also been used in the manufacture of X-ray tube windows as it is 17 times as transparent to X-rays as aluminium.

When beryllium is bombarded with alpha particles, from an emitter such as radium, it becomes a source of neutrons. This process was used in 1942 by Enrico Fermi to provide neutrons for the first controlled chain reaction from uranium.

Previous Element

Lithium (Li)

Next Element

Boron (B)

Related Elements

Hydrogen (H), Oxygen (O), Fluorine (F), Magnesium (Mg), Aluminium / Aluminum (Al), Silicon (Si), Chlorine (Cl), Copper (Cu), Silver (Ag), Antimony (Sb), Radium (Ra), Uranium (U)

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