Tantalum

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Tantalum

This is tantalum.

Symbol Ta
Atomic number 73
Atomic mass 180.9479 amu

Tantalum was discovered in 1802. But this discovery did not receive universal acceptance. Many believed that the finding was an allotrope of niobium, its twin element that is located directly above tanatalum on the periodic table. It wasn't until 1844 when the first positive evidence came to support this new element.

Distinguishing properties

Tantalum is a shiny, grey, but ductile metal that resembles platinum. In fact, tantalum is often used as an economical substitute in applications normally requiring platinum metal. Tantalum is not readily attacked by chemicals and forms an oxide film on its surface.

Occurrence

Tantalum mines in Africa

Tantalum occurs in nature in the minerals columbite and tantalite (Col-tan) and euxenite. Niobium and tantalum concentrates are found in Brazil, Canada, Africa, particularly Congo, Australia and Spain.

Tantalum is also obtained as a by product in the extraction of tin from mineral deposits in Malaysia and Nigeria.

Niobium is also found in the same ores, therefore, since the chemistry of tantalum and niobium are chemically very similar, it is difficult to separate the two. A solvent extraction procedure yields 98% pure niobium oxide in one phase and a 99.5% pure tantalum oxide in another.

Usage

Commercial application of tantalum includes:

  • the use of tantalum carbide, TaC, (i.e. one of the hardest man-made substances) as the cutting edges of high-speed machine tools.
  • the use of tantalum oxide as the primary ingredient in electronic capacitors and rectifiers, computers, CB (citizens band) radios, smoke detectors, and automobiles.
  • the use of tantalum and its alloys in making surgical and dental tools. Surgical and dental equipment, such as that used for bone repair and internal stitching.
  • its use in turbine blades.
  • its use in surgical repairs of human bones (i.e. in skull plates), as foil or wires to connect torn nerves, and as woven gauze to bind up abdominal muscles.
  • the manufacture of chemical production equipment that is exposed to highly corrosive conditions. Alloys of tantalum, like the metal itself, are resistance to corrosion and wear.
  • nuclear reactors, aircraft and missile parts, camera lenses, night vision goggles

See also

Periodic table of the elements