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What is Europium?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Europium is a metallic chemical element which is classified among the rare earth elements of the periodic table. Although europium is not found in a pure form in nature, it can be found in an assortment of minerals; China and the United States are two major sources of the world's europium, in the form of minerals which must be treated to extract europium and other elements. The element does not have a wide array of uses, so consumers rarely interact with it directly, although europium oxide is used in the manufacture of some television sets and computer monitors.

In appearance, europium is silvery-white, and the element is also very soft and easy to work with. It is extremely reactive with both air and water, and it tends to form a dull patina, even when kept in nonreactive environments like mineral oil. The element is identified with the symbol Eu on the periodic table of elements, and it has an atomic number of 63. It is named, incidentally, for Europe.

Paul Emile Lecoq de Voisbaudran was the first to observe the spectral signature of europium, in 1890. Discovery of the element, however, is generally credited to Eugene-Anatole Demarcy, a French chemist who managed to isolate a relatively pure form in 1901. Truly pure europium was not isolated until the 1960s, when advanced techniques were used to extract the reactive element from monazite.

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In addition to being used in televisions, europium is also occasionally used as a dopant in lasers. Scientists and researchers also work with europium on a variety of projects, and geologists use the europium content of rocks to learn more about them. The element is utilized in some genetic screening tests, as well. It may also be alloyed with other metallic elements to form specific chemical compounds.

Like other rare earth elements, europium is mildly toxic, and people should probably avoid consuming it; it is also not not nutritionally necessary, even in very trace amounts. Fumes from heated europium should also be avoided, and dust from the element can cause a fire or explosives hazard due to its high reactivity. Europium also has an assortment of isotopes, most of which are not very dangerous.

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