What Is the History of Beryllium?


Quick Answer

Beryllium was discovered in 1728 by the French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin, who proposed naming it "glucinium" from the Greek "glykys," meaning "sweet," because of its sweet taste. The first elemental beryllium was isolated in 1828 by two independently working chemists, Friedrich Wöhler and Antoine Bussy. To distinguish it from yttrium, which is also sweet, it was renamed beryllia, and later beryllium, for the mineral beryl, in which it is commonly found.

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Full Answer

Wöhler and Bussy only produced impure grains of beryllium; the first significant quantities of pure beryllium were produced by Paul Lebeau in 1898 by electrolysis of beryllium salts. In 1932, the neutron was discover by James Chadwick when he bombarded beryllium with alpha rays. In the mid-19th century, demand for the element increased due to its usefulness in producing hard alloys and phosphors in fluorescent lights.

Today, most beryllium is produced by reacting beryllium fluoride with magnesium. Most beryllium is produced in the United States to meet global demand arising from its many uses. Due to being hard, strong and lightweight, it is often used in aerospace components. It is used to manufacture some tools because it is resistant to sparking when struck against other metals. It is also used in computer components, x-ray machines and nuclear reactors.

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