What is Beryllium? - Facts, Uses & Side Effects

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  • 0:01 Historical Roots
  • 0:50 Elemental Characteristics
  • 1:28 Fascinating Facts
  • 2:29 Various Uses
  • 3:15 Side Effects From Exposure
  • 4:29 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

Beryllium is a metal that can be found in a variety of sources, such as coal and even volcanic dust. Watch this video to discover some interesting facts about beryllium and learn about its uses and side effects.

Historical Roots

Beryllium is an interesting element. From its uses in the aerospace and nuclear industry to its origins of discovery, let's begin by unearthing the historical roots of beryllium.

It's believed that in ancient times, individuals used a mineral form of beryllium called beryl. However, it wasn't until the 1700s when a chemist by the name of Rene-Just Hauy recognized that the crystal structure of beryl had similar properties to the beautiful emerald crystal.

Fascinated with this discovery, Hauy brought it to the attention of French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin. Vauquelin's studies concluded that some element, such as an earth metal, was present in the beryl mineral. Yet it wasn't until the early 1800s when two chemists, Friedrich Wohler and Antoine Bussy, successfully isolated this element from the beryl mineral, leading to the discovery of the element beryllium.

Elemental Characteristics

Let's now talk about the elemental characteristics of beryllium. Beryllium is a chemical element that has an atomic symbol of Be and atomic number of 4. It's classified as an alkaline earth metal, which refers to any element that has the similar properties of being shiny and slightly reactive.

The molecular weight of beryllium is 9.0g/mol. With regards to its physical properties, the color of beryllium is steel gray. Known to be a brittle metal, it's relatively soft.

Fascinating Facts

Now that we've covered the historical roots of beryllium and discussed some of the element's characteristics, let's go over some fascinating and fun facts concerning this interesting element.

Fact #1: It's considered to be one of the lightest elements, in terms of weight.

Fact #2: Beryllium has the unique characteristic of being strong yet light in weight.

Fact #3: During the discovery of beryllium in the 1700s, it was first learned that the beryl mineral, when combined with emerald, produced a sweet-smelling substance. This substance, later known as beryllium oxide, might be sweet but it is highly toxic.

Fact #4: Before assuming the Greek name beryllos, beryllium was originally known from the Greek term glyka, which means sweet.

Fact #5: Beryllium has a very high melting point - 2,348 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fact #6: With excellent thermal conductivity, beryllium is efficient at facilitating heat transfer, especially when transferring heat from hot to cold surfaces.

Various Uses

In addition to providing us with some fascinating facts, beryllium also has many practical uses. One interesting use of beryllium involves X-ray tubes. Since beryllium is primarily transparent to X-rays, it's very useful when manufacturing products such as radiation windows. Other uses of beryllium include alloys for the aerospace industry. As a lightweight metal, beryllium is useful for the production of high performance aircrafts, satellites and even spacecraft.

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