Facts About Beryllium

Atomic Number: 4
Atomic Symbol: Be
Atomic Weight: 9.012182
Melting Point: 2,348.6 F (1,287 C)
Boiling Point: 4,479.8 F (2,471 C)

Word origin: Beryllium comes from the Greek word for the mineral beryl, beryllos.

Discovery: Beryllium was discovered in 1798 by Louis Nicolas Vauquelin, who found it in the oxide form in both beryl and emeralds. The metal was isolated in 1828 by Wohler and by Bussy independently by the action of potassium on beryllium chloride.

Properties of beryllium

Beryllium is one of the lightest metals. It has one of the highest melting points of all the light metals. Steel gray in color, beryllium's modulus of elasticity is about one-third greater than steel. [See Periodic Table of the Elements]

It is nonmagnetic, resistant to concentrated nitric acid, has superior thermal conductivity and resists oxidation in air in normal temperatures. Neutrons are produced in the amount of about 30 neutrons/million alpha particles when bombarded by alpha particles, as from radium or polonium.

Beryllium can scratch glass, a property that is likely due to the formation of a thin layer of the oxide.

Beryllium and its salts are very toxic and require careful handling. Early experimenters tasted beryllium and its compounds to verify their sweetish nature. This should not be done.

Fluorine-beryllium ore
A rich fluorine-beryllium ore.
Credit: Mironov56 | Shutterstock

Sources of beryllium

About 30 mineral species contain beryllium, with bertrandite, beryl, chrysoberyl and phenacite being among the most important. Precious forms of beryl are aquamarine and emerald. Beryl and bertrandite are the most important commercial sources of the element and its compounds.

It was not until 1957 that beryllium metal was readily available to industry. The majority of the metal is now prepared by reducing beryllium fluoride with magnesium metal.

Uses of beryllium

The alloy beryllium copper is used extensively for springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes, and non-sparking tools. It also serves as a structural material in high-speed aircraft, spacecraft, missiles and communication satellites. The space shuttle also has beryllium copper in its windshield frame, brake discs, support beams, and other structural components.

Because beryllium is relatively transparent to X-rays, an ultra-thin beryllium foil is useful in X-ray lithography for reproduction of micro-miniature integrated circuits. It is a common material in gyroscopes, computer parts and instruments that require lightness, stiffness and dimensional stability.

Because of its low thermal neutron absorption cross section, beryllium is used in nuclear reactors as a reflector or moderator. The high melting point of beryllium oxide also makes it an attractive material for nuclear work and ceramic applications.

(Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

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