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Elements in the Modern World

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This article is about the discovery of rare-earth elements and their important use in today's modern world. These elements were first discovered in Ytterby, a village close to Stockholm. In 1787, Carl Arrhenius, a geologist, found a heavy black rock and decided to send it to a chemist in Finland named Johan Gadolin. Gadolin analyzed the rock and determined that it was a new element and named it yttrium. Since the discovery of yttrium, six additional elements were discovered from the same sample. The elements were named ytterbium, erbium, terbium, holmium, scandium, and thulium. The Ytterby mine was closed in 1933 and is now known as landmark.

Originally, these elements were considered to be only found in Scandinavia, which made them rare. They were also thought to be earth elements because they were found in an earthly oxide. However, today we know that these elements are not rare, but that they are found in China, the United States, India, Australia, and Russia. They are also metals because of their highly magnetic properties and their ability to emit and absorb light. One of these "rare-earth" elements called Cerium is ranked at number 25 of the most abundant elements in the earth's crust. Yttrium is actually twice as abundant as lead.

Chemists prefer to call these elements lanthanides because they follow the element lanthanum in the periodic table in terms of similarities in chemical properties and they have three outer electrons. Lanthanides absorb light waves and UV rays. They can also release the energy as a glow, and the color of the glow varies from element to element. When the outer electrons switch to a different energy state they release the visible light. In class we learned about when elements are in the same column they share similar chemical properties. We also learned about the outer most electrons and the different energy states where those electrons are. The columns in the periodic table also tell us how many electrons are in the outer most energy level.

These chemical properties are what make the lanthanides useful in a lot of items we use in everyday life. Some examples where lanthanides are used are the display screens of laptops and smart phones, television sets, fluorescent bulbs, iPods, windows, and sunglass. The military uses some of these elements for precision guided weapons because of their highly magnetic properties. Lanthanides combined with magnets are also used to create energy used to power wind turbines. Toyota uses 8 different "rare-earth" elements in the Prius.

China has 36% of the world's recoverable rare-earth resources. The rest is scattered throughout the world. It is very difficult and dangerous to process out the desired elements. Right now, China is the only place that has the processing capacity to get these highly in demand elements. A few places in California, Montana, and Idaho have these lanthanide resources,



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