What is Scandium?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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First identified in 1879 by a team of scientific researchers led by Lars Fredrick Nilson, the chemical element scandium is a soft metal with a color that is often described as a combination of silver and white. Assigned the atomic number 21, scandium is considered to be one of a group of rare earth elements. Here is some background on the history of scandium, as well as examples of how the metal is used today.

Scandium is often identified with the periodic law developed by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869. According to his research, Mendeleev concluded that there were three then unknown chemical elements that would eventually be discovered. For purposes of developing his theory, Mendeleev used the name of ekaboron as a collective term for these elements. After the discovery and identification of scandium in 1879, Swedish researcher Teodor Cleve determined that the element was in fact part of the predicted triad of Mendeleev. This understanding has continued to persist into modern times, with scandium identified as a transitional element that is still somewhat limited in usage, owing to its rarity.


In spite of the fact that scandium remains a somewhat rare element, there are several applications that are commonplace today. Because the metal is both lightweight and strong, scandium is ideal for use in some types of sporting equipment. One of the most common applications of this type is in the manufacturing of lacrosse sticks. Scandium provides just the right balance between being heavy enough to allow for effective movement, but not so heavy as to slow the player.

American gun maker Smith & Wesson has produced a small revolver that is composed of a frame that is made with scandium, complimented with a cylinder made of titanium. The revolver is considered to be a good weight for use in sharp shooting. Scandium alloy is often paired with titanium to produce products like bicycles, baseball bats, and some golf clubs.

Lighting is also impacted by the presence of scandium. Many standard light bulbs feature trace amounts of scandium, since the metal helps to produce illumination that is comparable to natural sunlight. Along with mass produced light bulbs, scandium also is effective as an addition to the mercury vapor lamps that are employed in theaters, movie and television sound stages, and inside arenas all over the world. A form of scandium, identified as SC-46, is often employed at oil refineries as one of the tracing agents that help to maintain the quality of the products that are produced.


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Post 3

I am hearing of a mine opening in my area mining platinum and scandium and was wondering what it is.

Post 2

@David09 - I’ve heard of bikes being made out of scandium, but they’re not that prevalent. Titanium is far more popular. I don’t know if one is better than the other, but titanium has a pretty established reputation for its lightness and durability.

Post 1

I wonder if people make mountain bicycles out of scandium?

I ask because I work with a guy who is an accomplished cyclist. Sometimes he bikes to work, and his bike is incredibly strong and light, characteristics that the article says are true of scandium.

I don’t know if that’s what his bike is made of; it may in fact be titanium. But I wonder if scandium would be a good substitute material as well.

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