Ytterbium (Yb)

By Kayley Eshleman

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Properties

Ytterbium is soft and has a silvery luster, while it is also malleable. It has a melting point 819°C and a boiling point of 1196°C. Ytterbium's density is 6.570 g/cc. It reacts slowly with water, and can be attacked and dissolved by concentrated mineral acids. Ytterbium also oxidizes with air which creates a protective surface layer around it.

Uses of Ytterbium

Ytterbium can be used in memory devices and lasers, like the one shown to the right. Its salts can be used as industrial catalysts that are becoming more and more common because other catalysts are more toxic and polluting. It can also be used for ceramic capacitors and other electronics. The metal in ytterbium can be used to improve grain refinement and other properties of stainless steel. Ytterbium compounds are rare, but some of its alloys have been used in dentistry.

Isotopes

Natural ytterbium is a combination of seven different isotopes, and there are seven other ytterbium isotopes that are known of, but they are unstable. The graph below shows the abundance of the seven isotopes that make up natural ytterbium. It has been reported that one of ytterbium's isotopes was used as a radiation substitute for an X-ray machine when electricity was not available.

Atomic Structure

Ytterbium has an atomic number of 70, which means it has 70 protons and electrons. Its mass number is 173.04, and it has 103 neutrons. Ytterbium's atomic radius is 222 pm. On the periodic table, it is the second farthest to the right and in the second to last row.
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History of Ytterbium

In 1878, Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac isolated ytterbium at the University of Geneva. It was extracted from the compound, Erbium. Some time later though, this sample was found to be impure, and for the first time in 1953 scientists finally extracted a completely pure sample of ytterbium. Ytterbium is named after the village of Ytterby in Sweden. It is the last of four elements to be named after this town.

Fun Facts

  • Ytterbium is stable, but it is treated like it is toxic and is kept in closed containers to protect it from moisture and air.
  • It is a suspected teratogen and can irritate skin and eyes.
  • Metallic ytterbium dust can be a hazard for fire and explosions.
  • Ytterbium is mainly found in the mineral monazite, (shown at right) and is extracted by ion exchange and solvent extraction.
  • Ytterbium is a rare earth element which is commercially recovered from monazite sand. It is mainly mined in China, the U.S., Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, and Australia.
  • About 50 tonnes of ytterbium are produced each year.