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This is selenium.

Symbol Be
Atomic number 4
Atomic mass 9.01218 amu

Selenium, discovered in 1818,is a soft metalloid or semimetal.

Distinguishing properties

It is similar to sulfur in many ways, but overall it is more like tellurium.

The most striking feature of selenium is its electrical conductivity. Unlike most electrical conductors, selenium varies in conductivity with variations in light. The conductivity of pure selenium can increase as much as a thousand-times when a sample is taken from darkness into bright sunlight. This "photoelectric" property accounts for the most common applications of the element and its compounds.


Selenium exists in several allotropic forms, therefore, its physical appearance varies from a grey metallic appearance to a red glassy appearance. The red allotrope is unstable and reverts to the grey form under normal conditions.


Selenium is usually found in the company of copper and sulfur. Virtually all commercial selenium is recovered from anode slimes in copper refineries and in the sludge that remains after producing sulfuric acid. These two highly profitable operations simply cast off selenium as a byproduct.


Selenium can be found in all kinds of light-sensitive devices such as photocells, solar cells, television cameras and light meters. Selenium is also suitable for use in rectifiers.

Selenium has specialized applications in rubber vulcanization and catalysis and as a colourant in glass and ceramic products.

See also

Periodic table of the elements