Yttrium: Chemical Element Properties

Yttrium is a chemical element with the symbol Y and atomic number 39. It is a silvery-metallic transition metal chemically similar to the lanthanides and has often been classified as a “rare-earth element”. It is almost found in combination with lanthanide elements in rare-earth minerals, and is never found in nature as a free element. It is a rare-earth metal of Group 3 of the periodic table.

In 1787, Carl Axel Arrhenius found a new mineral near Ytterby in Sweden and named it ytterbite, after the village. Johan Gadolin discovered yttrium oxide in Arrhenius’ sample in 1789, and Anders Gustaf Ekeberg named the new oxide yttria. Elemental yttrium was first isolated in 1828 by Friedrich Wohler.


The most important uses of yttrium are LEDs and phosphors, particularly the red phosphors in television set cathode ray tube (CRT) displays. It is also used in the production of electrodes, electrolytes, electronic filters, lasers, superconductors, various medical applications, and tracing various materials to enhance their properties. It has no known biological role. Exposure to yttrium compounds can cause lung disease in humans.

Characteristics of Yttrium

  • It is a soft, silver-metallic, lustrous and highly crystalline transition metal. As expected by periodic trends, it is less electronegative than its predecessor in the group, scandium, and less electronegative than the next member of period 5.
  • It is the first d-block element in the fifth period.
  • The pure element is relatively stable in air in bulk form, due to passivation of a protective oxide.
  • When It is heated to 750 °C in water vapor. When finely divided, however, yttrium is very unstable in air; shavings or turnings of the metal can ignite in air at temperatures exceeding 400 °C.
  • Yttrium nitride (YN) is formed when the metal is heated to 1000 °C in nitrogen.