What Is Germanium Used For? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Did you know that there's an element that helps you see in the dark? In this lesson you'll learn about many uses for the element germanium. Read on to find out how we use this very helpful element.

What Is Germanium?

Have you ever seen a movie or television show where someone was wearing what they called 'night vision' goggles or glasses? Those goggles were made with the element germanium (pronounced jer-MAY-ni-em). Germanium, like all elements, is made up of one kind of atom. The atoms that make up germanium are transparent to infrared radiation, which makes them perfect for making lenses in night vision goggles, which are also often used by our military.

Infrared radiation is energy that is actually given off by your body. All living things give off infrared radiation, and the sun, stars and other galaxies do, too. We can't see it, but it's there. When you feel the heat of the sun, that's also infrared radiation.

Night vision goggles
night

When it's dark and I can't see you with my eyes, if I put on night vision goggles I'll be able to see you because your body is giving off energy waves that are picked up by the lenses. So germanium actually helps you see in the dark!

Seeing Straight

Another useful property of germanium is that it has a high index of refraction. This means that if light goes through a lens coated with germanium, the light will pass almost straight through without being bent. This makes germanium very useful for coating camera lenses and lenses that are used on scientific microscopes. Because the light isn't distorted by the lens, what you see through it is very realistic. Today, most of the germanium that's used in manufacturing is used to make these high-quality lenses.

Fiber optics
optics

Germanium is also used to make solar panels that help convert sunlight into energy, and for fiber optics. Fiber optics are thin strands of glass that are bundled together and used to send signals over great distances. They actually use light to send messages! Germanium helps them do this more easily because it keeps the light from bending.

Germanium Uses

One of the most common uses for germanium used to be in making electronic devices, such as televisions and radios. Germanium was useful for this purpose because it's a semi-conductor, which means that it lets electricity pass through it more than some elements, but not as much as most metals. Although germanium was used for this purpose in the past, other elements are now replacing it in most electronic devices.

Some Other Uses of Germanium

Germanium is also useful for other purposes, including helping fluorescent lights like you might see in a school or factory glow.

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