What is Bismuth? - Facts, Uses & Side Effects

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  • 0:03 Bismuth
  • 0:26 Elemental Background…
  • 2:16 Stability of Bismuth
  • 3:02 Natural Abundance and Uses
  • 4:33 The Future of Bismuth
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Anthony Grattini

Tony has a BA in Biology and has taught secondary Life, Earth, and Physical Science, as well as Honors & AP Chemistry.

Bismuth is a naturally occurring element with a number of uses. Learn more about bismuth and its physical and chemical properties. When you are through, test your knowledge with a quiz.


Does learning about bismuth give you heartburn, indigestion, an upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea? Probably not, because these are all symptoms of eating or drinking too much. Bismuth, however, is the element this lesson explores and is 57 percent by weight the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, the pink stuff.

Elemental Background on Bismuth

  • Bismuth is the 83rd element on the periodic table of elements.

  • 83 represents the number of protons, or positively charged particles of an atom.

  • It also represents the number of electrons, or negatively charged particles of an atom. Because it is a neutral element, it will have the same number of protons as it does electrons. The only thing that can differ and still retain the label bismuth is the number of neutrons.

  • The atomic weight of bismuth is 208.98038 u. It is the heaviest stable metal on the periodic table.

  • If you now subtract the number of protons from this number you would get the average number of neutrons, or neutrally charged particles of an atom, which is around 126 neutrons for bismuth. The same element can have a variety of neutrons; these variations of the same element, based on the varying neutrons, are called isotopes.

  • The density of bismuth is 9.780 g/cm^3. This is how much stuff is in a certain amount of space. It is almost 10 times more dense than water and, therefore, naturally sinks when placed in water.

  • It forms a monoclinic crystal, which is a rectangular prism with a parallelogram as its base.

  • Bismuth is the most diamagnetic of all metals. This just means that bismuth can repel a magnetic field. Its diamagnetism is so strong that one can observe the effects by levitating a magnet at home by placing the magnet between two plates of bismuth.

  • Bismuth was officially identified by Claude Francois Geoffroy in 1753. He was a French chemist and master pharmacist.

Stability of Bismuth

Despite being chemically similar to many toxic heavy metals like lead and polonium, so far as scientists know, the metal form of bismuth is completely nontoxic. Although bismuth is considered 'stable', it's radioactive and has a half life a billion times longer than the age of the universe. This just means that every 1.9x10^19 (19,000,000,000,000,000,000) years, half of a sample of bismuth will no longer be bismuth. In other words, this stuff isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Bismuth's electron configuration causes it to be a member of the 5th family on the periodic table, and as such has the ability to form three stable bonds.

Natural Abundance and Uses

Bismuth occurs as a high density, pink-tinged, silvery-white metal. It's also found in ores such as bismuthinite (Bi2 S3, bismuth sulfide) and bismite (Bi2 O3, bismuth trioxide). The major commercial source of bismuth in the U.S. is as a by-product of refining lead, copper, tin, silver, and gold ores.

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