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What is Tungsten?

Joseph Comunale, Marauo Davis
  • Author
    Joseph Comunale

    Joseph Comunale obtained a Bachelor's in Philosophy from UCF before becoming a high school science teacher for five years. He has taught Earth-Space Science and Integrated Science at a Title 1 School in Florida and has Professional Teacher's Certification for Earth-Space Science.

  • Instructor
    Marauo Davis

    Marauo has taught both chemistry and mathematics in the high school and college setting and has a Ph.D. degree in chemistry.

What is tungsten? Learn tungsten uses, tungsten properties, and tungsten facts. Discover the chemical symbol, atomic number, and electron configuration of tungsten. Updated: 01/19/2022

What is Tungsten?

Tungsten is a chemical element and rare metal represented in the periodic table with the symbol W, and atomic number 74. It appears grayish-white and is solid at room temperature. Tungsten is often called wolfram, because of its presence in the composition of the mineral wolframite. But what is the history of tungsten? And what is tungsten used for?


The pure form of the tungsten element.

Tungsten properties include its malleability and shiny appearance.


History

Tungsten was discovered in 1783 by the brothers Jose and Fausto Elhuyar, two Spanish chemists. They discovered an acidic compound within the composition of the mineral wolframite. They were able to further reduce that acidic compound by adding charcoal to pull away the oxygen atoms which were bonded to the tungsten, isolating the element and metal. They named the new metal "wolfram."

Two years earlier, Carl Scheele had discovered that same tungstic acid could be pulled out of a calcium tungstate mineral, which at the time was called tungsten. Scheele and Torbern Bergman proposed that a new metal could be reduced out of the tungstic acid they discovered, however they didn't move forward with the suggestion.

Jose and Fausto Elhuyar are attributed for discovering wolfram, which has also taken the name tungsten, while the mineral called tungsten that Scheele had worked with has taken his name and is now called scheelite.

Tungsten went on to play a role in history. For its useful metallic properties, it was desired within the military and defense industries. Geopolitical pressures and dealings occurred during both world wars. For example, both the United States and Britain put pressure on Portugal during WWII for its wolframite deposits which were being exported to Germany. Germany was the first to use tungsten carbide (the hardest metal) as a plate armor for its tanks and vehicles. Additionally, the same metal was used to create high velocity, armor piercing rounds.


Germany was the first to use armor plating with tungsten alloy.

What is tungsten used for includes the armor plating to tanks first used by the Germans.


Tungsten Sources

As previously mentioned, tungsten is an element within the chemical minerals wolframite and scheelite. There are also other minerals within what is called the wolframite series, such as ferberite and hubnerite.

There are approximately 3.2 million tons of tungsten within the entire world's reserve supply. China has the most tungsten at around 1.8 million tons. Following them, Canada has around 290,000 tons, Russia has 160 thousand tons, and Vietnam has 95 thousand tons. However, tungsten minerals are present within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the exploitive and unethical mining that has occurred there has caused tungsten to be named a conflict mineral.

Once a tungsten mineral is found, the tungsten metal can be extracted over a few stages. First the mineral is reduced into tungsten acid or tungsten oxide (WO_3). Next, the acid is heated with carbon or with other substances, like hydrogen, to remove the oxygen and leave a powdered tungsten.

What is Tungsten?

Tungsten is an element that gets very little attention in day-to-day life, but this important element is used for everything from the household incandescent light bulb to radiation shielding. It has the chemical abbreviation W and atomic number 74, and tungsten is one of the elements known by it Latin name - in this case, wolfram, hence the reason for its chemical abbreviation.

This element is a member of the transition metals and sits in the same periodic table column as chromium and molybdenum. In fact, tungsten is the heaviest member of this group and has an atomic mass of 183 grams per mole.

Tungsten Properties

Tungsten has very attractive and useful properties as a metal. It is a solid grayish-white metal, which is highly malleable. Once it is extracted as a powder, however, its melting point is far too high for it to be efficient to melt into ingots and bars. Instead, it is mixed with small amounts of other metals and then it is compressed and heated in a sintering process.

Tungsten has the following other physical and chemical properties:

Periodic Table Info Tungsten's description
Chemical Symbol: W
Atomic Number: 74
Atomic Mass: 183.84 u
Column on Periodic Table: Group 6
Row on Periodic Table: Period 6
Periodic Table Block: d-block


Physical, Chemical, and Atomic Properties Tungsten's description
Melting point: 3422 degrees Celsius
Boiling point: 5930 degrees Celsius
Room temperature state: Solid
Density: 19.3 grams per cubic centimeter
Electron Configuration: Xe 4f^{14} 5d^{4} 6s^{2}
Oxidation States: -4, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3, +4, +5, +6
Isotopes: tungsten-182, tungsten-183, tungsten-184, and tungsten-186


This image shows the symbol for tungsten and the electron shells of tungsten.

Tungsten electron shells.


Tungsten also has the highest tensile strength, which describes the maximum strength the material can withstand without breaking while being stretched or pulled. Chemically, tungsten is mostly non-reactive; it does not react to acids, bases, air, oxygen, or water. However, if heated, it can react to oxygen to form an acidic compound. Additionally, at high temperatures, tungsten can react with bromine or chlorine, and iodine.

Tungsten Uses


Tungsten is useful as light bulb filaments because of its high melting point, malleability, and conductivity.

Light bulb filaments are made from tungsten alloy.


Tungsten sits in the sixth column of the periodic table of elements.
periodic table

Properties of Tungsten

Tungsten is a solid at room temperature and possesses the highest known melting point and lowest vapor pressure of any metals. It also has the highest tensile strength known. Furthermore, due to tungsten's excellent corrosion resistance, it is highly resilient to attack by acids.

The element takes on a grayish to white appearance, and like all other metals, tungsten is malleable. It is quite ductile and can be readily drawn into a wire. However, it's much more easily pressed out than most other metals. Due to its high class properties, tungsten is able to be used in a host of real-world applications.

Uses for Tungsten

Tungsten is generally not a household name, so few people might realize that there are a host of applications for this useful element. For instance, due to its extremely high melting point and ductilibility, tungsten is very readily employed in incandescent and fluorescent light bulb filaments. So, next time you step in a room and flick the light switch on, know that tungsten is playing a part in illuminating the room.

Tungsten is used in incandescent light bulb filaments.
lightbulb

Moreover, tungsten is also used as the primary element in television tubes. The extraordinarily high-temperature properties of tungsten also make it useful for X-ray production and as heating elements in furnaces, since it is able to withstand the high temperatures. Simply put, when you think high temperature, think tungsten, and there is a good chance it is present there!

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Additional Info

What is Tungsten?

Tungsten is an element that gets very little attention in day-to-day life, but this important element is used for everything from the household incandescent light bulb to radiation shielding. It has the chemical abbreviation W and atomic number 74, and tungsten is one of the elements known by it Latin name - in this case, wolfram, hence the reason for its chemical abbreviation.

This element is a member of the transition metals and sits in the same periodic table column as chromium and molybdenum. In fact, tungsten is the heaviest member of this group and has an atomic mass of 183 grams per mole.

Tungsten sits in the sixth column of the periodic table of elements.
periodic table

Properties of Tungsten

Tungsten is a solid at room temperature and possesses the highest known melting point and lowest vapor pressure of any metals. It also has the highest tensile strength known. Furthermore, due to tungsten's excellent corrosion resistance, it is highly resilient to attack by acids.

The element takes on a grayish to white appearance, and like all other metals, tungsten is malleable. It is quite ductile and can be readily drawn into a wire. However, it's much more easily pressed out than most other metals. Due to its high class properties, tungsten is able to be used in a host of real-world applications.

Uses for Tungsten

Tungsten is generally not a household name, so few people might realize that there are a host of applications for this useful element. For instance, due to its extremely high melting point and ductilibility, tungsten is very readily employed in incandescent and fluorescent light bulb filaments. So, next time you step in a room and flick the light switch on, know that tungsten is playing a part in illuminating the room.

Tungsten is used in incandescent light bulb filaments.
lightbulb

Moreover, tungsten is also used as the primary element in television tubes. The extraordinarily high-temperature properties of tungsten also make it useful for X-ray production and as heating elements in furnaces, since it is able to withstand the high temperatures. Simply put, when you think high temperature, think tungsten, and there is a good chance it is present there!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What products are made from tungsten?

Some products that are made of tungsten include light bulb filaments, jewelry, electronics, high temperature metallic tools, walls surrounding fusion reactors, plate armor, and armor piercing projectiles. Tungsten's malleability, conductivity, high melting point, density, and hardness make it useful for all these things.

What is the most common use of tungsten?

The most common use for tungsten is in light bulb filaments. Tungsten's high melting point, malleability, and conductivity make it especially useful within the alloy that make light bulb filaments.

Is tungsten used in cars?

Tungsten is used in some cars like race cars. It's high density makes it useful for the ballast in race cars such as NASCAR and Formula One.

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