The discovery of tantalum

DEFINITION

Tantalum is a metallic chemical element with the symbol Ta, atomic number 73 and atomic weight 180.94788. It is a hard, blue-gray metal with a body-centred cubic crystalline structure. Tantalum is majorly used in electrolytic capacitors and parts for vacuum furnaces, aircraft and missiles. As it is unaffected by body fluids and causes no adverse tissue reactions, it is used in dental and surgical instruments and prostheses[1].

DISCOVERY

The Swedish chemist and mineralogist Anders Gustaf Ekeberg discovered[2] tantalum in 1802 while investigating tantalite (a mineral ore). He first heated a piece of tantalite in caustic alkali and then leached it with water. He then added acid to the water after which a precipitate was formed. He then filtered the solution and dried the precipitate (which was in the form of white powder). Then, he heated the precipitate in a crucible, which after cooling, looked metallic and blackish. Here is a photograph[3] of high-purity tantalum cubes:

DISCOVERER

Here is a lithograph[4] of Anders Gustaf Ekeberg:

1767-1813

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