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Facts About Beryllium

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A little known metal, with the atomic number 4, is beryllium. It is one of the “Alkali Earth Metals” and is only found as an alloy usually as Beryl. It is solid, light and has a number of other properties which make it of interest. But, on its own it is poisonous and can cause lung nodules and cancer.

Electron shell diagram for berylliumBeryllium’s electron shell diagram. © Greg Robson/Pumbaa.

Mass

It is light, being way up on the periodic table at 4 but with a few neutrons giving it an atomic mass of 9 amu. It has a low density not even twice the density of water. Other metals are much higher on the scale and therefore denser and heavier. Iron for example is 26 (weight 57) and Uranium is 92 (weight 238).

Heat

It has a very high melting and boiling point and is thus very useful in applications where the ability to withstand high temperatures are crucial. It does not expand that much as well, which is useful in maintaining shape in high temperature situations. It also gets rid of it’s heat very quickly.

Beryllium oreBeryllium ore. © House.gov.

Magnetism

It is non magnetic, which has major advantages for uses in tools where magnetism could be problematic. Also of course in the medical industry where the MRI is extremely sensitive to most metals.

Beryllium and X-rays

The most useful property is that it is virtually transparent to X-Rays. Thus it is used extensively as the window for X-Ray transmitters and machines.

Handle with care

Beryllium is extremely toxic. Breathing it in or its salt can cause severe lung disease and can lead to cancer. For this reason where pure Beryllium is used personal protection is essential.

Beryllium in aerospace

It is an ideal space age metal, used in rocket nozzles and also in missiles and other space craft and fast jets. It is also of huge interest as a mirror surface as it doesn’t distort or oxidize.

Beryllium and the big bang

The Large Hadron Collider uses Beryllium Copper Beam pipes around the collision area, thus when the “Big Bang” is simulated, Beryllium will be an integral part of the experiment.

Discovery of beryllium: Who discovered beryllium?