Yttrium was discovered in the late 18th century, but it is only during the past few decades that it has found widespread use — in chemistry, physics, computer technology, energy, medicine and other fields. Yttrium is a rare earth element that is soft, silver-metallic, and lustrous. A rare earth is indispensable in the manufacturing of cell phones and other technology. Yttrium is a pure element that is relatively stable in air and very unstable when separated. The highest purity of distillation Yttrium is 99.99%. If it is in contact with water, it reacts to form hydroxide.
In 1787, Karl Arrhenius came across an unusual black rock in an old quarry in a Swedish town called Ytterby, near Stockholm. Believing he had found a new Tungsten mineral, he passed the specimen to Johan Gadolin who lived in Finland. In 1794,Gadolin isolated the Yttrium within the mineral, which was later named Gadolinite in his honour.
The metal itself was first isolated in 1828 by Friedrich Wöhler and was made by reacting Yttrium Chloride with Potassium. However, Yttrium was still hiding other elements. In 1843, Carl Mosander investigated Yttrium Oxide more thoroughly and found that it consisted of three oxides: Yttrium Oxide, which was white; Terbium Oxide, which was yellow; and Erbium Oxide, which was rose-coloured. A fourth oxide, Ytterbium Oxide, was identified in 1878.
Yttrium metal is widely applied in making specialty alloys. It increases the strength of alloys of metals such as Chromium, Aluminium, and Magnesium. Before the era of flat-screen televisions, TV sets contained large cathode ray tubes, which were large glass tubes that projected images on the screen. Yttrium oxide, combined with the element europium, provided the red colour on millions of colour-television sets.
As a metal, it is used on the electrodes of some high-performance spark plugs. Yttrium is also used in the manufacturing of gas mantles for propane lanterns as a replacement for Thorium. The addition of Yttrium to alloys generally improves workability, adds resistance to high-temperature recrystallization, and significantly enhances high-temperature oxidation resistance. Yttrium also finds use in fuel cells for powering cars and buses, computers and digital phones and, potentially, buildings.
Yttrium is widely used to produce phosphors that are used in cell phones and larger display screens as well as general lighting. Yttrium-based superconductivity research continues around the world. And breakthroughs are being made in levitation trains and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in health care.
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Current research is working with paint and plastics companies to develop more uses of YinMn blue, a pigment that results in the combination of Yttrium with Indium and Manganese. The potential uses are due in large part to Yttrium’s unique properties. It’s a lighter-weight element, so it is posible to have more volume without adding weigh.
Though Yttrium was discovered in Scandinavia, it is far more plentiful in other countries. China, Russia, India, Malaysia and Australia are the leading producers of Yttrium. In April 2018, scientists discovered what they think is a massive deposit of rare earth metals, including Yttrium, on a small Japanese island called Minamitori Island.
Yttrium can be found in most of the rare earth minerals, but has never been discovered in the Earth’s crust as a freestanding element. Lunar rocks gathered during the Apollo moon missions contain Yttrium. The human body also contains Yttrium in tiny amounts, usually concentrated in the liver, kidneys, and bones.