Lanthanides: Definition & Properties

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  • 0:02 Introducing the Lanthanides
  • 1:20 What Is a Lanthanide?
  • 3:16 Properties of Lanthanides
  • 3:59 Uses of Lanthanides
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Did you know that elements in the lanthanide family are used for the production of items such as colored glasses, cameras and binoculars? Continue reading to learn about this interesting family of elements and properties.

Introducing the Lanthanides

If you're looking for elements in the lanthanide family, a good place to start would be in the earth's crust. Elements found in the earth's crust are called rare earth metals, and lanthanide elements are good examples of these.

Let's step back in time a moment - to the year 1787 in Ytterby, Sweden, to be precise. An earth mineral ore called Gadolinite is discovered. Fast forward to 1794, and a scientist named Gadolin extracts the element yttria, later called yttrium, from this ore. In 1803, scientists Berzelius and Klaproth realize a different element called cerium could be extracted from the same ore.

Would you believe, over time, all 15 lanthanide elements were extracted and separated from this one ore? It's true! In fact, this method of discovery for lanthanide elements led to their classification as rare earth metals. This is plausible given their discovery in an earth mineral ore.

Now, it's worth noting the word 'rare' is not 100% applicable to our friends the lanthanides. These elements are not technically rare as they are quite abundant in nature. But what exactly is a lanthanide? Let's define the term.

What Is a Lanthanide?

Lanthanides are a family of 15 chemical elements whose atomic numbers range from 57 to 71. The 15 elements include: lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium, (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and lutetium (Lu).

You may encounter fellow scientists referring to a lanthanide as a rare earth metal. This is the perfect name, given that's it's found in the earth's crust. Looking at the periodic table, lanthanides are found in period 6, which is the light pink row at the bottom. Be careful not to confuse the lanthanides with their neighbor the actinide family, which is period 7, or the dark pink row below the lanthanides.

Standard Periodic Table
periodic table

A great way to ensure you are looking at lanthanides is to pay attention to the first element in the row. You will see the first element in lanthanides has an atomic symbol of La. This also happens to be the first two letters in the name lanthanide. Hence, if you ever forget where the lanthanides are located, pay attention to the atomic symbol of La and you can't go wrong!

There are a few characteristics of lanthanides that are certainly worth mentioning. First is their oxidation state. Lanthanides are known to adopt the oxidation state of +3. They tend to be most stable at this state. Oxidation state is a calculated value used to show the number of electrons lost or gained. Second, the 15 elements in the lanthanide family all possess similar physical properties. Let's discuss those now.

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