Tantalum: Capacitors, Jewelry & Other Uses

Instructor: Matthew Bergstresser

Matthew has a Master of Arts degree in Physics Education. He has taught high school chemistry and physics for 14 years.

Tantalum is a transition metal that isn't as well-known as other transition metals, but has several common uses. In this lesson, we will discuss how tantalum is used and point out its industrial importance.

Versatile Element

Have you ever known someone who is considered to be well-rounded? This means they are multi-talented. For instance, they may be able to play an instrument well, are athletic, and do well academically. This is an analogy for the element tantalum, which is a transition metal. Tantalum has several different useful properties, therefore, giving it several uses. Let's get busy learning what this element is used for!

Tantalum

Tantalum is in the sixth row of the periodic table, which means it is a relatively heavy metal. It is shiny and gray and can be drawn into thin wires. It readily reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere, which means a thin layer of tantalum oxide forms on its surface. Like many metals, it conducts heat and electricity well. In fact, tantalum along with a few of its neighbors on the periodic table are highly resistant to heat and wear. Let's see how the properties of tantalum are utilized for various things and purposes.

Capacitors

Capacitors are devices used in electrical circuits to store electrical energy. Basically, a capacitor is two sheets of metal that are parallel to each other, very close together, and rolled up to save space. Tantalum capacitors have a wide range of capacitance and they range from picofarads (pF) to microfarads (mF). An upside to using a tantalum capacitor is they are much higher in capacity and smaller in size compared to aluminum capacitors with the same capacitance. They also can handle much larger electric currents compared to aluminum because tantalum is a much better conductor of electricity. Tantalum capacitors are very reliable compared to other capacitors. They are used in cellphones, laptop computers, medical devices and various military equipment.

Jewelry and Medical Uses

Tantalum is also used in making jewelry. Since it is easy to form into various shapes it is a popular material to make rings. Because jewelry can be subject to wear and tear, tantalum is a popular choice for making jewelry since it is a tough metal. In addition to being a tough metal, it has an attractive appearance. It has a blue tinge to it distinguishing it from other metals such as sterling silver, titanium or cobalt.

You might have seen someone who wears a necklace or a ring and notice that their skin is tinted green or black on the part where they wear the jewelry. This is due to the metals being in constant contact with perspiration, which contains many different compounds causing the metal to corrode or tarnish. Tantalum is not affected by perspiration, therefore, it won't tarnish or corrode which in turn may discolor the skin.

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