What is Osmium? - Uses, Facts & Information

Instructor: Kimberly Uptmor

Kimberly has a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education: Science and has master's in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently, she teaches 7th grade through college level classes.

Discovered in the early 1800's, osmium is a transition metal that has an atomic number of 76 and has useful characteristics. This lesson explains detailed facts and uses of osmium.

Osmium's Smell

Have you ever been given a nickname that depicted a characteristic about you? Many nicknames are often creative and can be useful to tell a funny story. However, how would you like to have a nickname that defined a certain odor you gave off? Now that's embarrassing, but a certain element was given its name because of this reason.

Smithson Tennant discovered osmium
Smithson Tennant

Osmium was discovered in 1803 by English chemist Smithson Tennant. When separating a mixture during an experiment, he had discovered two new elements, one being osmium. The smell has been described as being like ozone, or like a freshly inked photocopy from an older machine, or welding.

Because of its distinctive smell, the newly discovered element was given the name 'osmium,' from the Greek term osme meaning 'smell' or 'odor.'

Despite its smell, osmium has characteristics that make it useful within our world today. Let's have a look at the facts and uses of osmium.

Facts About Osmium

Osmium metal (below)
Osmium Metal

This silver, or blue-white, metal belongs to a group of elements called the transition metals, which are metals that make up the central block of the periodic table. Many of the transition metals including osmium, have the characteristics of being hard, with high melting and boiling points, and conducting electricity very well.

Osmium's melting point is over 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit and its boiling point is over 9,000! It has another great quality of resisting corrosion, especially when exposed to air.

Osmium has an atomic number of 76, which explains the number of protons the nucleus of the element contains. As one of the densest elements, it has an atomic mass of 190.23 AMU.

Osmium is the 76th element on the Periodic Table
Periodic Table

Osmium can be found in nature as a pure substance or within the mineral osmiridium. However, it has been found within the waste products of nickel refining facilities.

But beware! It's oxide like osmium tetroxide form can be toxic towards organisms and is extremely flammable. When exposed to high levels of the oxide, the organism can have minor problems that include damage to eyes, skin, and lungs. Major complications include lung cancer, liver and kidney damage, and burns towards skins.

Uses of Osmium

Osmium is often used as an alloy, or a metal that is combined with other substances, to reduce friction wear. It has been used in fountain pen tips, pivots, and electrical contacts.

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