Selenium is a chemical element with the symbol Se and atomic number 34. It is a nonmetal, with properties that are intermediate between the elements above and below in the periodic table, sulfur and tellurium, and also has similarities to arsenic. It is a element in the oxygen group (Group 16 [VIa] of the periodic table), closely allied in chemical and physical properties with the elements sulfur and tellurium. Selenium is rare, composing approximately 90 parts per billion of the crust of Earth. It is occasionally found uncombined, accompanying native sulfur, but is more often found in combination with heavy metals copper, mercury, lead, or silver in a few minerals.
Physical and Chemical Characteristics of Selenium
- Selenium forms several allotropes that interconvert with temperature changes, depending somewhat on the rate of temperature change. When prepared in chemical reactions, selenium is usually an amorphous, brick-red powder. When rapidly melted, it forms the black, vitreous form, usually sold commercially as beads.
- The structure of black selenium is irregular and complex and consists of polymeric rings with up to 1000 atoms per ring. Black Se is a brittle, lustrous solid that is slightly soluble in CS2. Upon heating, it softens at 50 °C and converts to gray selenium at 180 °C; the transformation temperature is reduced by presence of halogens and amines.
- The most stable and dense form of selenium is gray and has a hexagonal crystal lattice consisting of helical polymeric chains, where the Se-Se distance is 237.3 pm and Se-Se-Se angle is 130.1°.
- The minimum distance between chains is 343.6 pm. Gray Se is formed by mild heating of other allotropes, by slow cooling of molten Se, or by condensing Se vapor just below the melting point. Whereas other Se forms are insulators, gray Se is a semiconductor showing appreciable photoconductivity.
- With strong reducing agents, it forms polyselenides. Selenium does not exhibit the changes in viscosity that sulfur undergoes when gradually heated.