|Atomic mass||92.9064 amu|
Niobium, discovered in 1801, was not straightforward. An American scientist discovered a new element in a museum collection. A mineral sample which was thought to contain chromium was analyzed. In the preliminary analyses, it was concluded that the mineral was not chromium, but rather the oxide of an unknown element. The new element was named columbium. This discovery did not gain universal acceptance. Many chemists believed that columbium and tantalum were actually the same element. This was finally proven incorrect 50 year later by a European scientist who separated out what he thought was a new element from tantalum. He named his element niobium.
It turned out that columbium and niobium were the same element. American chemists attempted to resurrect the original name, columbium. However, since European scientific publications were commanding the greater amount of respect in those days, the new name eventually prevailed.
Pure niobium is soft and ductile. It resists corrosion at room temperature because of a thin film of niobium oxide that forms on its surface. The only acid that attacks niobium at room temperature is hydrofluoric acid.
Today, niobium is commercially refined and used:
- as an alloy with iron and nickel to enhance the stability of these metals during welding operations.
- as alloys of niobium-tin, niobium-zirconium, and niobium-aluminum. These alloys are superconductive.
- in atomic reactors.
- in jet engines, and
- in rockets.