What is Gallium? Properties and Uses of Gallium
Gallium is a metal that easily melts within a few seconds of holding it in your hands. It was discovered by the French Chemist Paul-Emile Licoq de Boisbaudrin in 1875.
Before the discovery of Gallium by Paul-Emile Licoq de Boisbaudrin, a Chemist by the name Mendeleev predicted the existence of Gallium in the year 1871 and also stated that the physical properties would be similar to that of aluminium. The word Gallium originates from the Latin word "Gallia" for France.
Gallium is represented by the symbol "Ga". It does not exist as a free form in nature. Gallium is obtained as a by-product in the process of mining or while refining metals like aluminium, zinc and copper. It is also found as trace elements in minerals like sphalerite, germanite, bauxite and coal.
France leads as a major refiner of Gallium metal followed by Russia, Canada, and Kazakhstan.
Properties of Gallium
Gallium is the 31st element on the periodic table with an atomic number 31. The pure form of Gallium is silvery white in color whereas solid Gallium is blue-gray in color. Solid Gallium is soft and can easily be cut with a knife. It expands on cooling and, therefore, should not be stored in glass or metal containers.
Gallium has a very low melting point. It melts just above the room temperature. Gallium easily mixes with metals to form alloys, and it is used to create alloys with a low melting point.
When Gallium comes in contact with another metal, it diffuses into the other metal’s crystalline structure making the metal very brittle. For example, when Gallium comes in contact with steel it diffuses into the core structure of steel and makes it weak and brittle. An aluminium coke can crumbles when it comes in contact with Gallium.
Gallium and compounds of Gallium are hazardous to the health of humans and animals. They leave a metallic taste in the mouth; cause skin rashes and in extreme cases it can decrease the production of red blood cells. Gallium and compounds of Gallium should be handled with caution. Gallium is less toxic when compared to the toxicity level of mercury.
Uses of Gallium
Gallium is used in thermometers that research scientists use to measure environments with very high temperatures.
Mirrors are painted with gallium to make a highly polished reflective surface. Gallium is used to wet porcelain surfaces to give extra shine.
Gallium easily combines with other metals to form alloys. Alloys like Gallium nitride and Gallium arsenide are used to make semiconductors and light emitting diodes.
Gallium is used in the manufacture of integrated circuits. Integrated circuits are also referred to as microchips. Microchips are used in defense applications, computers, and telecommunications.
Gallium-67 salts such as gallium citrate and gallium nitrate are used in nuclear medicine for imaging purposes to detect cancerous cells. The Gallium scan involves a medical test that uses the radioactive form of the Gallium isotope to detect cancerous cells.
Gallium-based solar panels provide power for space applications like satellites and space missions.
Gallium arsenide (GaAs) changes electricity directly into laser light. It is used in the manufacture of lasers, photodetectors, light-emitting diodes (LED), solar cells and highly sophisticated circuits, semiconductors and transistors
Gallium arsenide is used to make transistors. A transistor is a device used to control the flow of electricity in a circuit.
The Neutrino Observatory in Italy uses a large amount of Gallium to study solar neutrinos produced by the sun (neutrinos are subatomic particles that can pass through ordinary matter).
A form of Gallium called Gallium (III) salt is used to treat hypercalcemia that can cause tumor in the bones.
© 2014 Nithya Venkat