What is Tantalum?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Tantalum is a metallic chemical element classified among the transition metals on the periodic table of elements. It is a relatively rare element, and it has few uses, most of which are industrial. Consumers may have interacted with tantalum if they have medical implants or if they have experienced surgery. This element is particularly renowned for its inertness and ability to resist chemical attack by a wide range of substances.

This element appears naturally in the element tantalite, and it often appears in compounds with niobium, a closely related element. When isolated, tantalum is a very hard, heavy dull gray metal, although it is relatively ductile when heated. The element has the atomic number 73, and it is identified on the periodic table of elements with the symbol Ta. Like other metals in the transition group, tantalum is solid at room temperature, and the melting point of tantalum is around 3,290 Kelvin (5,463 degrees Fahrenheit or 3,017 degrees Celsius).


Credit for the discovery of tantalum is usually given to Anders Ekeberg, who observed the element in Sweden in 1802. It took another 18 years to isolate the element, which was named for Tantalus, a character in Greek mythology. Tantalus is famous for being forced to stand in a pool of water below a tempting array of grapes; however, if he bent to drink, the pool would drain, and if he rose to eat, the grapes would move away. Tantalus, in other words, was surrounded by temptations which could not affect him, just as tantalum remains inert even when being surrounded by corrosive materials.

The major sources for this metal are Australia, Canada, and Brazil. It is used in light bulb filaments, various electronic parts, and in capacitors and lightning arresters. The element is also used in the construction of nuclear reactors, and it is alloyed with other metals for various purposes. Tantalum carbide is also useful as an industrial grinding material. In medicine, tantalum is used in some surgical instruments and as a coating for certain medical implants to minimize rejection.

This element does not appear to be very hazardous, although tantalum has been linked with tumors in some cases. The dust also poses an explosives hazard, and face protection should be worn when grinding or otherwise working with tantalum to avoid inhaling particles and fumes.


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