Neodymium is a metallic chemical element classified in the rare earth group of the periodic table. Despite the “rare” in its elemental group, neodymium is actually relatively abundant in the Earth's crust, usually in compounds which form various minerals. It can also be found in some mixed metal ores, which are processed in various ways to yield separated metal products. Consumers are probably most familiar with neodymium in the form of extremely powerful magnets made from a neodymium alloy.
In appearance, the element is silvery in color, and extremely bright. However, it oxidizes quickly, so it needs to be stored in mineral oil or other neutral conditions for the brilliant, shiny color to be retained. Neodymium also has a number of salts and isotopes which are used in various industrial applications; the appearance of these derivatives of the element vary. On the periodic table, the element is identified with the symbol Nd, and it has an atomic number of 60. It rarely appears in a pure form in nature, due to its reactivity with the air.
Baron Carl Auer von Welsbach is typically given the credit for the discovery of this element, in 1885. He was conducting studies on a material known as didymium which had been discovered by Carl Mosander in 1841, and ultimately used a fractional distillation technique to extract the neodymium from this compound. Mosander believed that his discovery was a new element, and he named it after the Greek didymos, for “twin,” a reference to its close resemblance to lanthanum. Welsbach named his discovery the “new twin” after realizing that didymium was not in fact a pure element.
A pure form was not isolated until 1925, and it took several more years to develop an affordable technique for extracting it. In addition to being used in magnets, the element is employed in optical materials, glass coloring, pottery glazes, and various metal alloys. Neodymium is a common component of misch metal, a metal alloy which is used in things like flints for lighters. These compounds are also sometimes given as an intravenous anticoagulant.
Like other rare earth metals, this element is believed to be of low to mild toxicity. Dust from the metal can certainly irritate mucus membranes such as those found in the mouth, nose, eyes, and lungs. Care should also be taken around neodymium fumes and vapors produced when the metal is processed, and people may want to avoid ingesting it, if possible.