Fun Facts About Beryllium

Beryllium is an element that is found in nature as a brittle gray earth metal, steel-like in appearance, with an atomic number of 4. In nature, it can only be found in minerals in combination with other elements. It has a very low density and the second-lowest mass of any element, making it useful in many areas of modern science and technology. It is considered one of the rarer elements in the universe and its full potential is still being discovered. Here are ten interesting facts about this fascinating element:

1. Beryllium is not synthesized in stars. Stars produce atomic nuclei by recycling old atoms through a process known as nucleosynthesis; however, only certain elements are produced from this, and beryllium is not one of them. This plays a major part in its relative scarcity on Earth and throughout the universe.

2. Beryllium is present in a number of popular gemstones. It is a component of emerald and aquamarine, which are known as beryls. While pure beryls are colorless, impurities can cause it to be a variety of spectacular colors, including the vibrant greens of emeralds and the deep teals of aquamarines.

3. One of beryllium's most common uses is as a window for x-rays and particle physics experiments. Beryllium is a low-density element and has a low atomic weight, which makes it fairly transparent under ionic radiation. Today, most x-ray windows and tubes are made of beryllium. However, any imperfections in the beryllium can have serious impact on the quality of the images produced by the x-ray, so it is subject to very stringent requirements and purity tests.

4. Overexposure to beryllium and its associated minerals can result in a condition known as berylliosis. It is most commonly found in beryllium miners and in people who were exposed to fluorescent lighting before beryllium was banned from its production in the early 1900s. Symptoms of beryllosis include shortness of breath, cough, chest pains, and fever. Although beryllosis is not curable, its symptoms can be efficiently treated so as to cause minimal interference and severity.

5. If you own high-end audio equipment, there is a good chance it contains beryllium. Beryllium is known for its excellent acoustic properties, so it is a useful component in speaker drivers. However, because of its high price and toxicity, it is more often found in combination with other metals, and in all but the most expensive equipment, titanium is the preferred component.

6. The United States is the world's biggest producer of beryllium ore. It is also one of only three countries in the world to produce it, the other two being China and Kazakhstan. Between 1998 and 2008, 88% of the world's beryllium came from the United States.

7. Beryllium is often seen in designs for nuclear weapons. Early atomic bombs and thermonuclear explosives used beryllium in the lining of their plutonium pits. Its use in nuclear fuel rods has also been proposed, due to its unique combination of nuclear, chemical and mechanical properties.

8. Beryllium also has uses in the fields of aerospace and astronomy. Because it can withstand much colder temperatures and maintain more uniformity than glass in extreme cold, it is often used in modern telescope mirrors. Space vehicles, satellites, and missiles commonly contain beryllium as well.

9. Beryllium as an element is not known to be necessary or even useful for either plant life or animal life.

10. Copper and beryllium are often alloyed and used in all sorts of applications, from producing musical instruments to metalworking to firearm ammunition. Beryllium copper, however, is still toxic and prolonged exposure to it can cause illness.