What is Samarium?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Samarium is a metallic chemical element classified in the rare earth metals. Uses for the metal were limited until the 1950s, when a method for isolating it was developed, thus making pure samarium available for commercial use. This element is relatively rare in nature, and it is typically found in mineral compounds which must be treated to extract the ores trapped inside. Average people rarely interact with this substance, as it is not commonly used in consumer goods.

The atomic number of samarium is 62, and it is identified with the symbol Sm on the periodic table of elements.
The atomic number of samarium is 62, and it is identified with the symbol Sm on the periodic table of elements.

Pure samarium is pale gray, with two allotropic forms, meaning that the crystalline structure of the pure element can change, depending on various circumstances. It also has a number of isotopes, and several oxides of the element have commercial value as well. The pure element readily oxidizes, even in mediums like mineral oil, and it can spontaneously ignite in the right temperature conditions. The atomic number of this substance is 62, and it is identified with the symbol Sm on the periodic table of elements.

The existence of the element was first discovered in 1853 by Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac, when it was found in the Ural Mountains, although it was not isolated in pure form until 1879, by Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran. A mine in South Carolina was also producing samarium-bearing ores and minerals by this time. It is named for a former chief of the Russian Corps of Mining Engineers, Vasili Samarski-Bykhovets. This makes this element the first one to be named for a living person, a trend which would be followed by other elements in the future.

Industrially, samarium is used as a dopant in some lasers, and it also appears as an additive in glass which is designed to absorb infrared energy. It is also used in nuclear reactors, some ceramics, and lighting. One radioactive isotope of samarium is used in medicine, and the element is also used in magnets and some metal alloys. It's often blended with cobalt for a strong magnetic alloy.

Few studies have been conducted on the safety of samarium. It is assumed to be mildly toxic, like other substances in the family of elements to which is belongs. As a general rule when handling any metallic substance, people should avoid breathing vapors generated through heating, or fine dust from the metal if it is cut or ground down. Some isotopes are also clearly toxic, and they should be handled with care.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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