Erbium is a chemical element with the symbol Er and atomic number 68. A silvery-white solid metal when artificially isolated, natural erbium is always found in chemical combination with other elements. It is a lanthanide, a rare earth element, originally found in the gadolinite mine in Ytterby in Sweden, from which it got its name. Erbium was discovered in 1843 by the Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander.
Pure erbium is a silvery white metal that is relatively stable in air. It slowly reacts with water and quickly dissolves in diluted acids, except hydrofluoric acid (HF) because of formation of the protective fluoride (ErF3) layer on the surface of the metal. It is a very strong paramagnet above approximately 85 K (−188 °C, or −307 °F). Between 85 K and 20 K (−253 °C, or −424 °F) the metal is antiferromagnetic, and below about 20 K it is arranged in a conical ferromagnetic structure.
Uses of Erbium
- It is metal used to color lenses of glasses.
- They are used as control rods in a nuclear reactor.
- It has a vital application in metal alloys.
- It’s ion’s unique wavelength aids laser surgery.
- Pure erbium metal is malleable (or easily shaped), soft yet stable in air, and does not oxidize as quickly as some other rare-earth metals. Its salts are rose-colored, and the element has characteristic sharp absorption spectra bands in visible light, ultraviolet, and near infrared.
- Otherwise it looks much like the other rare earths. Its sesquioxide is called erbia. Erbium’s properties are to a degree dictated by the kind and amount of impurities present.
- It does not play any known biological role, but is thought to be able to stimulate metabolism. Erbium is ferromagnetic below 19 K, antiferromagnetic between 19 and 80 K and paramagnetic above 80 K.
- It can form propeller-shaped atomic clusters Er3N, where the distance between the erbium atoms is 0.35 nm. Those clusters can be isolated by encapsulating them into fullerene molecules, as confirmed by transmission electron microscopy.