Fun Facts about Magnesium

Magnesium (Mg) is the twelfth element in the periodic table and is classified as an alkaline earth metal. It is silvery-white and very lightweight. As a matter of fact, magnesium is even lighter than aluminum. Magnesium played a role in everything from 17th century cows refusing to drink from a well which purportedly contained healing waters to the modern aerospace industry. Magnesium is important for our health and is suprisingly volatile in its metallic state. Once students begin to learn about magnesium and its myriad uses, its presence is obvious everywhere from the drugstore to the racetrack. Science teachers sometimes use burning magnesium in experiments so students will be able to calculate the change in mass after the fire is extinguised.

1. Magnesium is a very important part of our bodies. Only three other minerals are more abundant in the human body. We are dependent upon magnesium for healthy bones. Eating a good mix of whole grains, legumes and vegetables (especially dark green vegetables) is important to ensure that there is enough magnesium in the diet.

2. In addition to being a critical component of our bodies, magnesium is also the central ion in chlorophyll. It therefore plays a key role in the process of photosynthesis, which supports all animal life on this planet by changing carbon dioxide into oxygen.

3. Magnesium tarnishes slightly when exposed to air, so it is normally coated with magnesium oxide to protect it from the effects of air and water when used in industry.

4. It is especially interesting to note that magnesium is a flammable metal. It needs to be in powdered form or in very thin strips to be easily ignited. Magnesium burns with a brilliant white light and eye protection is required when experimenting with burning magnesium. Because magnesium is flammable, it is often used in incendiary and pyrotechnic devices.

5. Scientists recognized magnesium as an element in 1755, but as early as 1618 a farmer near Epsom, in England, discovered that the water in his well was very unusual. Although the cows refused to drink the bitter water, the local residents appreciated the way that the water soothed their sore muscles and healed small cuts. This was the beginning of Epsom salts, which you can still find in drugstores today. Epsom salts are magnesium sulphate (MgSO4).

6. In addition to Epsom Salts, you will find another form of magnesium at the drugstore – Milk of Magnesia, which many people use as a laxative. The active ingredient in Milk of Magnesia is magnesium hydroxide.

7. Magnesium is lighter than aluminum and is used in the production of cars, airplanes and missiles.
8. Because of it's lightness, magnesium was used in specially designed racing wheels – that's how "mag wheels" got their name.

9. Magnesium is also very easy to shape and mold. This is why it is so useful in manufacturing. Magnesium is often combined with other metals to make alloys so that manufacturers will be able to benefit from the qualities of many metals in one alloy.

10. Although magnesium is very common on the Earth, it is never found alone. Magnesium is always combined with other elements in nature.

11. Magnesium is named after an area in Greece called Magnesia.