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Thulium (revised)

THULIUM (REVISED)

Note: This article, originally published in 1998, was updated in 2006 for the eBook edition.

Overview

Thulium was given its name in honor of the earliest name for Scandanavia, Thule. The element was discovered and named by Swedish chemist Per Teodor Cleve (1840-1905) in 1879. Cleve made his discovery while studying the mineral erbia. Erbia was one of the many new elements found in a black rock discovered outside the town of Ytterby, Sweden, in 1787. The complete analysis of that rock took more than 100 years. In the process, nine new elements, including thulium, were discovered.

The chemical family to which thulium belongs is sometimes called the rare earth elements. That name is misleading. These elements are not really very rare. But they usually occur together in the earth, and they are very difficult to separate from each other. The more common chemical name for the group of rare earth elements is the lanthanides. The name comes from element 89, lanthanum, often classified as a lanthanide. The family makes up Row 6 of the periodic table. The periodic table is a chart that shows how chemical elements are related to each other.

SYMBOL
Tm

ATOMIC NUMBER
69

ATOMIC MASS
168.9342

FAMILY
Lanthanide
(rare earth metal)

PRONUNCIATION
THU-lee-um

Discovery and naming

In 1787, a Swedish army officer named Carl Axel Arrhenius (1757-1824) found a strange looking black rock outside the town of Ytterby, Sweden. He passed it along to Johan Gadolin (1760-1852), professor of chemistry at the University of Åbo in Finland. Gadolin discovered a new mineral in the rock, now now known as yttria.

Gadolin had no idea how complicated yttria was. Other chemists worked for a hundred years before they completely understood the mineral.

In 1879, Cleve was studying one of the new elements found in yttria. The element had been named erbium by an earlier researcher. Cleve realized that erbium was not really an element, but was made up of three other substances. Cleve called these substances erbium, holmium, and thulium.

The substance Cleve called thulium was not pure thulium, but a compound of thulium combined with other elements. Pure thulium was not produced until 1910 by American chemist Charles James (1880-1928).

Physical properties

Thulium is a silvery metal so soft it can be cut with a knife. It is easy to work with and is both malleable and ductile. Malleable means capable of being hammered into thin sheets. Ductile means capable of being drawn into thin wires. Its melting point is 1,550°C (2,820°F) and its boiling point is 1,727°C (3,141°F). Its density is 9.318 grams per cubic centimeter.

Chemical properties

Thulium is relatively stable in air. That is, it does not react easily with oxygen or other substances in the air. It does react slowly with water and more rapidly with acids.

Occurrence in nature

Thulium compounds occur mixed with other rare earth compounds in minerals such as monazite, euxenite, and gadolinite. Monazite is about 0.007 percent thulium.

Thulium is probably the rarest of the lanthanide elements. Its abundance is estimated at about 0.2 to 1 part per million in the Earth's crust. This still makes it more abundant than silver, platinum, mercury, and gold.

Isotopes

Only one naturally occurring isotope of thulium exists, thulium-169. Isotopes are two or more forms of an element. Isotopes differ from each other according to their mass number. The number written to the right of the element's name is the mass number. The mass number represents the number of protons plus neutrons in the nucleus of an atom of the element. The number of protons determines the element, but the number of neutrons in the atom of any one element can vary. Each variation is an isotope.

At least 16 radioactive isotopes of thulium are known also. A radioactive isotope is one that breaks apart and gives off some form of radiation. Radioactive isotopes are produced when very small particles are fired at atoms. These particles stick in the atoms and make them radioactive.

Thulium is a silvery metal so soft it can be cut with a knife.

Studies have been done on thulium-171, a radioactive isotope of thulium, for possible use in a portable X-ray machine. This isotope gives off gamma radiation. Gamma radiation is very similar to X rays. Gamma rays pass through soft tissues in the body like X rays. But they are blocked by bones and other thick materials. So a small amount of thulium-171 acts just like a tiny X-ray machine. It can be carried around more easily than can a big X-ray machine.

Extraction

Like many lanthanides, pure thulium is made by treating its fluorine compound with calcium:

Because it is so rare, thulium is also very expensive. It sells for about $50 a gram (about $23,000 a pound).

Uses

Thulium is too expensive to have many commercial uses. One of the few applications is in lasers. A laser is a device that produces bright, focused light of a single color. Thulium lasers work well at high temperatures and need less cooling. Lasers containing thulium are used in satellites that take pictures of the Earth's surface.

Compounds

There are no commercially important compounds of thulium.

Health effects

Although little is known about the health effects of thulium, it is assumed to be toxic. Caution is advised in handling or using it.

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Thulium

Thulium

melting point: 1,545°C
boiling point: 1,950°C
density: 9.32 g/cm3
most common ion: Tm2+, Tm3+

Thulium is a silver-grey metal with a bright luster. Swedish chemist Per Theodor Cleve discovered the metal in 1879 while processing the ore erbia. One of the materials Cleve extracted from the ore was a green substance he named "thulia"a thulium oxide. The element's name is derived from an ancient name for northern Europe, Thule.

Thulium is the least abundant of the naturally occurring rare earth elements, although it is believed to have a natural abundance similar to gold,

silver, and cadmium. Its abundance in the earth's crust is approximately 0.52 milligrams per kilogram. Thulium is commercially extracted from monazite (which is composed of up to 0.007 percent thulium) using ion exchange and solvent extraction techniques. It is also found in the minerals gadolinite, euxenite, and xenotime.

The most common isotope of thulium is 169Tm, which has a natural abundance of 100 percent and is the only stable isotope. Other isotopes range from 145Tm to 179Tm and have half-lives ranging from 0.36 milliseconds (147Tm) to 1.92 years (171Tm). Examples of thulium compounds include thulium iodide (TmI3), thulium fluoride (TmF3), and thulium oxide (Tm2O3).

Thulium metal is soft, ductile, and malleable and can be cut with a knife. It tarnishes when in contact with air and reacts with water. Thulium has very few commercial uses. Radioactive thulium can be utilized as a power source for portable x-ray machines and is produced by irradiating the element in a nuclear reactor. Thulium may also be utilized to make magnetic ceramic materials found in microwave equipment.

see also Cleve, Per Theodore.

Stephanie Dionne Sherk

Bibliography

Lide, David R., ed. (2003). In The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 84th edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Internet Resources

Gagnon, Steve. "It's Elemental: Thulium." Jefferson Lab. Available from <http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele069.html>.

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thulium

thulium (thōō´lēəm) [from Thule, an ancient name for Scandinavia], metallic chemical element; symbol Tm; at. no. 69; at. wt. 168.93421; m.p. about 1,545°C; b.p. 1,947°C; sp. gr. 9.3; valence +3. Thulium is a soft, malleable, ductile, lustrous silver-white metal. It is one of the rare-earth metals of the lanthanide series in Group 3 of the periodic table. It does not tarnish rapidly in dry air but should be protected from moisture. It forms compounds with oxygen and the halogens, most of which are light green. The oxide, Tm2O3, is called thulia. Thulium is the least abundant of the rare-earth metals. It is found in the minerals gadolinite and euxenite and in monazite, the chief commercial source. The metal can be obtained by chemical reduction of its compounds. The pure metal and compounds have few commercial uses, but they are often used without purification in combination with the other rare-earth metals and compounds, e.g., in lighter flints and carbon electrodes for arc lighting. Although the only naturally occurring isotope (thulium-169) is stable, there are 15 unstable isotopes. Thulium-170 (half-life about 129 days), prepared by irradiating thulium-169 in a nuclear reactor, emits X rays; it is used in portable X-ray sources. Thulium was discovered in 1879 by P. T. Cleve.

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thulium

thulium (symbol Tm) Lustrous, silver-white, metallic element of the lanthanide series (rare-earth metals). Its chief ore is monazite but thulium is as rare as gold. Soft, malleable and ductile, it combines with oxygen and the halogens. It is used in arc lighting and portable X-ray units. It is used in arc lighting and portable X-ray units. It was discovered in 1879 by Swedish chemist Per Cleve (1840–1905). Properties: at.no. 69; r.a.m. 168.9342; r.d. 9.31 (25°C); m.p. 1545°C (2813°F); b.p. 1947°C (3537°F); most stable isotope Tm169 (100%).

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Tm

Tm • symb. the chemical element thulium.

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thulium

thulium •columbium •erbium, terbium, ytterbium •scandium • compendium •palladium, radium, stadium, vanadium •medium, tedium •cryptosporidium, cymbidium, idiom, iridium, rubidium •indium •exordium, Gordium, rutherfordium •odeum, odium, plasmodium, podium, sodium •allium, gallium, pallium, thallium, valium •berkelium, epithelium, helium, nobelium, Sealyham •beryllium, cilium, psyllium, trillium •linoleum, petroleum •thulium • cadmium •epithalamium, prothalamium •gelsemium, premium •chromium, encomium •holmium • fermium •biennium, millennium •cranium, geranium, germanium, Herculaneum, titanium, uranium •helenium, proscenium, rhenium, ruthenium, selenium •actinium, aluminium, condominium, delphinium •ammonium, euphonium, harmonium, pandemonium, pelargonium, plutonium, polonium, zirconium •neptunium •europium, opium •aquarium, armamentarium, barium, caldarium, cinerarium, columbarium, dolphinarium, frigidarium, herbarium, honorarium, planetarium, rosarium, sanitarium, solarium, sudarium, tepidarium, terrarium, vivarium •atrium •delirium, Miriam •equilibrium, Librium •yttrium •auditorium, ciborium, conservatorium, crematorium, emporium, moratorium, sanatorium, scriptorium, sudatorium, vomitorium •opprobrium •cerium, imperium, magisterium •curium, tellurium •potassium • axiom • calcium •francium • lawrencium • americium •Latium, solatium •lutetium, technetium •Byzantium • strontium • consortium •protium • promethium • lithium •alluvium, effluvium •requiem • colloquium • gymnasium •caesium (US cesium), magnesium, trapezium •Elysium • symposium

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