What is Barium?
Barium is a soft, silvery and dense alkaline earth metal. Due to it high chemical reactivity, it is never found in nature in its elemental state, instead it is found combined with other elements. The metal rapidly tarnishes in air and reacts with water, therefore its most practical and used formats are compounds containing barium.
Applications of Barium
The applications of pure Barium include alloys, where combining it with other metals creates alloys intended for machine elements such as bearings or spark plugs in internal combustion engines. On the other hand, the strong attraction of Barium to oxygen paves the way for its use in removing the last traces of air in vacuum tubes
More familiar, are compounds containing barium, which have a variety of commercial uses. Barium sulphate is part of brightening compounds for printer paper and paint, is used in oil well drilling fluids, glassmaking and rubber-making. While all barium compounds are toxic, Barium sulphate is insoluble and safe to swallow, resulting in its use as ‘Barium Meal’ or ‘Barium Enema’ in radiology. Here, a suspension of barium sulphate is given to patients to assist with diagnostic imaging, especially to those suffering from digestive disorders. This is possible since Barium is a heavy element and scatters X-rays. As it passes through the body, the stomach and intestines can be distinguished on an X-ray. Other compounds such as barium carbonate are used as a rat poison, while barium nitrate and barium chlorate are used to produce green colours in fireworks.