Scandium: Facts & Uses

Instructor: Marauo Davis

Marauo has taught both chemistry and mathematics in the high school and college setting and has a Ph.D. degree in chemistry.

Have you ever heard the words, 'we have lift off'? The first thing that might come to mind is an aircraft, and scandium plays an important role in this area. Read on to discover some more interesting facts about scandium that might surprise you!

Facts About Scandium

What can be said about element 21? Well, the discovery of scandium can be dated back to 1879, and was made by the Swedish chemist Lars Nilson. Scandium is named for the region of the world in which it was found, Scandinavia. It has the chemical abbreviation Sc, an atomic mass of about 45 grams per mole, and a density of about 3.0 grams per cubic centimeter. Scandium is a soft, silvery-whitish metal that can easily undergo oxidation upon exposure to the air, which results in a pinkish or yellowish hue. Oxidation of an element simply means that it loses electrons. Although historically scandium was considered to be a rare earth metal, we now know this is not the case. In fact, scandium is the 50th most common element, and is actually the 35th most abundant element found in the earth's crust.

Periodic Table
Periodic Table

Like many other metals, scandium is a solid material at room temperature. Scandium has both high melting and boiling points, at 1541 and 2836 degrees Celsius, respectively. Since it is in Group 3 of the transition metals, scandium has a traditional 3+ oxidation state in terms of its chemical reactivity. This 3+ oxidation simply means that scandium can easily lose the three electrons in its outer shell. We will soon discover that it is scandium's ability to oxidize that makes it so very useful. The vast majority of scandium's applications and uses come from the oxide form of this element.

Uses for Scandium

Aerospace and lighting are the two areas where scandium finds itself being used most, but it is not cheap. For instance, the cost of pure scandium is about $270 per gram. Now at first glance this might not seem like a lot, but if we think about it in terms of pounds, then we might be able to better realize the full expense. For example, at this price, one pound of pure scandium would translate to $122,500! Despite this high cost, scandium is so sought out in aerospace because of its low density, high melting point, and strength, which are all needed for building the outward body of a plane. It is often alloyed or mixed with other metals, typically aluminum, to form a super-hard, lightweight, and durable material for building the aircraft.


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