Germanium Lesson for Kids: Discovery, Name & Facts

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever heard of a 'metalloid?' In this lesson, you'll learn about the element germanium, which is one of just a handful of metalloids in the periodic table of the elements.

Germanium or Geranium?

If you don't look closely at the name of this element, germanium (jer-MAY-ni-em), you might confuse it with ''geranium,'' the name of a common plant with bright red flowers. But unlike the flower, germanium is an element, which means it's made up of just one kind of atom. It's element number 32 on the periodic table of elements, and its symbol is ''Ge.''

Pure germanium

When pure, germanium is a grayish-white, hard metalloid, which is a type of element that has some characteristics of both metals and non-metals. Of the 118 known elements, only 7 of them are metalloids: germanium, boron, silicon, arsenic, antimony, tellurium, and polonium. Germanium is also brittle and lustrous, or shiny.

Unlike many elements, germanium doesn't react with water or air, and the only acid that can affect it is nitric acid. It's a solid when at room temperature.

Why 'Germanium'?

The element germanium was actually named after the country of Germany (the Latin name for Germany is germania). This makes more sense when you learn that the element was discovered by a German scientist who was working in Germany.

What Does Germanium Have to Do with Silver?

The Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, who developed the periodic table of the elements, predicted that an element with the characteristics of germanium would be found. He called this element 'ekasilicon' because it had many of the same properties as the element silicon, but it wasn't until almost twenty years later that germanium was actually identified.

Germanium bowl

A little over 130 years ago, a strange ore was discovered by a miner who was looking for silver in a mine near Freiberg, Germany. The miner provided a sample of the new ore to scientist Albin Weisbach, who worked at a Mining Academy nearby. Weisbach determined that it was a new mineral, and gave it to his colleague, Clemens Winkler, for analysis.

When Winkler studied the strange ore, he discovered it was made up of 75% silver, along with sulfur, a little mercury, and another substance he couldn't identify. After several months of research, he realized that the unknown substance was actually a new element that had some properties like those of metals. Winkler wanted to name the new element after the planet Neptune, which had recently been discovered. When he found out that someone had already named an element after Neptune, he named his new element after his homeland of Germany.

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