Zirconium belongs to group 4 on the periodic table, which is part of the larger family known as the transition metals. According to the Jefferson Lab website, other elements in group 4 are titanium, hafnium and rutherfordium. Zirconium, titanium, hafnium can be found in nature, while rutherfordium only exists in the laboratory.
The name of zirconium is derived from the Persian word "zargun," which means "gold-like." The element is commonly recognized as part of the compound zircon (ZrSiO4). The clear gemstone form of zircon can be cut to resemble a diamond and is often found in jewelry. Other uses for zirconium and its compounds include high performance pumps, surgical tools and lotions to treat poison ivy. The element does not absorb neutrons easily, and is therefore used in nuclear reactors, the production of which accounts for up to 90 percent of the yearly production of zirconium.
Zirconium was discovered by Martin Heinrich Klaproth 1789 and isolated by Jöns Jacob Berzelius in 1824. It is often found mixed with hafnium, a chemically similar element that makes isolating zirconium a difficult process. Its atomic symbol is "Zr," and its atomic number is 40. It has an atomic weight of 91, which means that zirconium has 51 neutrons and 40 protons in its nucleus. It exists in the solid phase at room temperature.