10 Interesting Facts About Beryllium

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Be-140gThe symbol of Beryllium is Be. It’s atomic number is 4. Beryllium does not occur as independent mineral on Earth but occurs as a compound. It is infused in Earth’s crust by cosmic rays. Since stellar nucleosynthesis creates beryllium that is short lived, it is a rarely occurring element in the Universe. Beryllium is an alkaline Earth metal and a free element, which is steel Grey in color. It is strong, light weight and brittle in its characteristics. Beryllium occurs as a part of the compound in precious gemstones like beryl(aquamarine, emerald) and chrysoberyl.


Fact 1: French chemist Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin (1763-1829) discovered beryllium in 1798. In 1797 studies were conducted on beryl and emerald by French mineralogist Rene-Just Hauy (1743-1822). He asked his friend Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin for an analysis of the two minerals.  Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin found the different mineral and called it glucinium because of its sweet taste. In 1957 the official name beryllium was adopted for the mineral.


Fact 2: Melting point of beryllium is 1278 degree celsius and it is the highest among the light metals namely lithium, sodium, magnesium etc. Beryllium is brittle at normal room temperatures. A layer of oxide called BeO is formed on the surface of beryllium under normal conditions and this oxide prevents the oxidation of beryllium even at 600 degree celsius. Due to the BeO layer beryllium resists corrosion by concentrated nitric acid. Beryllium is highly thermal conductive and has non magnetic properties.


Fact 3: Beryllium is mostly transparent to most wavelengths of X-rays and gamma rays. Hence beryllium is widely used for the production of radiation windows for X- ray tubes. Beryllium is used for the exclusive manufacturing of vacuum-tight windows and beam tubes for radiation experiments on synchrotrons.


Fact 4: Beryllium has a wide array of usage in its alloy form. It has exceptional stiffness and its modulus of elasticity is 50% greater than that of steel. Beralcast is a new alloy formed by the combination of beryllium and aluminum. It is 3 times stiffer and 25 times lighter than aluminum. It is widely used in helicopters and satellite guidance systems.


Fact 5: The alloys of beryllium with copper are most popular today. There is 2% beryllium in copper-beryllium alloys. These alloys are resistant to fatigue and corrosion. They are stronger and harder and conduct heat and electricity as good as copper. They are used in circuit boards, radars, home appliances, computers, aerospace applications, automobiles, aircraft landing systems etc.


Fact 6: A very important role has been played by beryllium during the discovery of neutrons. James Chadwick bombarded the beryllium with alpha particles, which helped in the discovery of sub atomic particles with no electric charge called as neutrons.


Fact 7: The relatively low density and the combination of modulus of elasticity of beryllium results in an unusually fast sound conduction speed of 12.9 km/sec under ambient conditions. But due to its brittleness, high cost and toxic nature, it is only used as tweeters in high end home audio, pro audio and public address applications.


Fact 8: Mirrors made of beryllium have an array of usage across space and cryogenic operations. Nearly 18 hexagonal beryllium sections are being used for the mirrors by NASA for James Webb Space Telescope. These mirrors are to face a temperature of 33 K and are made from gold plated beryllium to withstand the extreme cold condition.


Fact 9: Precautions must be taken while handling beryllium and beryllium dust as long term exposure to it will cause a medical condition called berylliosis. This disease is highly fatal and there is no cure for it.


Fact 10: United states, China and Kazakhstan are the only countries involved in commercial extraction of beryllium at an industrial scale. U.S is the leading producer and a beryllium mine in Utah is said to have produced nearly 85% of the World’s beryllium production in 2010.

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