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The name beryllium comes (via Latin: Beryllus and French: Béryl) from the Greek βήρυλλος, bērullos, beryl, from Prakrit veruliya (वॆरुलिय), from Pāli veḷuriya (वेलुरिय); veḷiru (भेलिरु) or, viḷar (भिलर्), "to become pale," in reference to the pale semiprecious gemstone beryl. The original source of the word "Beryllium" is the Sanskrit word: वैडूर्य vaidurya-, which is of Dravidian origin and could be derived from the name of the modern city of Belur. For about 160 years, beryllium was also known as glucinum or glucinium (with the accompanying chemical symbol "Gl"), the name coming from the Greek word for sweet: γλυκυς, due to the sweet taste of its salts.
mineral; inorganic; column two
History and authority: Proved by Templeton; Brit. Hom. Jour. 43, 79, in 1953.
Description of the substance
Beryllium is not a metal that is often encountered everyday. Although more abundant in the earth's crust than silver, it is more expensive and difficult to produce. The metal itself is very rarely seen, a grey metal formed mainly by powder metallurgy when used as a metal, but more commonly appears as a minor constituent in alloys. Its name comes from the common mineral beryl, which as emerald and aquamarine is an important gemstone, and its chemical symbol is Be. It is also called glucinium, symbol Gl. Glycium and glycinium have been variant spellings.
The oxide was first identified as containing a new element by Haüy (of crystal fame) and Vauquelin in 1797 or 1798 by decomposing beryl. The metal itself was isolated independently by Wöhler and Bussy in 1818, through the reduction of BeCl2 by potassium metal. It was merely a laboratory curiosity until the excellent properties of its alloys with copper were recognized in the 1930's. It was considered a strategic material in World War II because of these alloys.
Beryllium is a constituent of about 30 identified minerals, but most are rare. The most common beryllium mineral by far is beryl, 3BeO·Al2O3·6SiO2. This is a hard (Mohs 7.5-8.0), relatively light (spgr 2.75-2.80) found in granitic rocks, pegmatites, mica schists and similar environments, occasionally in huge crystals. One crystal was 9 m in length, and weighed 25 tons. Beryl is typically full of inclusions, milky but translucent, and of a greenish color. Clear crystals, which are much smaller but can still be of considerable size, are valuable gemstones. Pure beryl is clear and transparent, but small amounts of impurities color it very attractively.
Aquamarine is a fine, pale green-blue, while emerald is deep green due to Cr+++ ion. Because of its color, emerald is the most expensive gemstone, sometimes more costly than diamond. Since the index of refraction of beryl is only 1.580, not much different from that of glass, it does not have the fire or brilliance of diamond and similar gems. However, it is very hard (only corundum, 9, and diamond, 10) are harder. Morganite, a pink to rose beryl, and Golden Beryl, a golden-yellow gem, are less costly than emerald and aquamarine. Usually, the crystals are hand-picked to separate them from the gangue. In ancient times, precious green gems were called smaragdos. This term was applied not only to emerald, but also to malachite.
Currently, most beryllium (93% of world output in 2000) comes from a bertrandite deposit in Juab County, Utah, in Spor Mountain. Bertrandite is Be4Si2O7(OH)2, an alteration product of beryl. It forms clear or white orthorhombic crystals with one plane of good cleavage, is hard (6-7) and of moderate weight (sp.gr. 3.3-3.5; one source says 2.6). The concentrate is sent to Ohio for processing.
Perhaps the most important beryllium mineral after beryl and bertrandite is chrysoberyl, Be(AlO2)2, which at 8.5 is nearly as hard as corundum. Its crystals are orthorhombic, often occurring in pseudo-hexagonal clusters. When of gem quality, chrysoberyl provides alexandrite, with its amazing dichroism, that makes it red when seen from one direction, green from another, and also cat's eye, with inclusions of rutile (TiO2). Another rare beryllium mineral is euclase, named after its perfect cleavage. Its formula is BeAlSiO4(OH). It is a phyllosilicate (layered, like mica; beryl is a 3D tectosilicate), found in granite pegmatites, often with topaz. Due to its hardness (7.5) and durability, it is also found in placers. It may be clear, green or blue.
The atomic number of Be is only 4, and the only naturally occurring isotope has mass number 9, so the nucleus contains 4 protons and 5 neutrons. The atomic weight is 9.012. The isotope with mass number 8, which might be expected to be quite stable with paired-off protons and neutrons, actually splits with a half-life of less than 4 x 10-16 seconds into two alpha particles, which are even more stable. The decay energy is only 90 keV, however. Be8 is the only light nuclide to undergo alpha decay, but it is a very unusual sort of alpha-decay, that is also fission at the same time. Be7 captures an orbital electron (K-capture) to become Li7, half-life 53 days. Be10 is nearly stable, since its half-life is 2 x 106 years against beta-decay to stable B10. These are the only four beryllium nuclides.
Beryllium played an important role in the discovery of the neutron. The nuclear reactions that occurred when fast alpha-particles collided with light nuclei were extensively studied. The (α,p) [alpha in, proton out] reaction was an example, as in N14(α,p)O17. The reaction with Be9 produced a very penetrating radiation, very unlike a fast proton, that was initially believed to be a gamma ray (photon). However, in 1932 Chadwick showed that it was an uncharged massive particle that could eject protons by collision, which a gamma could never do. The reaction was, in fact, Be9(α,n)C12. This solved the outstanding problem of the constitution of the nucleus, since everything was consistent with an assembly of Z protons and A - Z neutrons, all with half-integral spin.
The thermal neutron absorption cross section of Be9 is only 10 mbarns, a rather small value, so beryllium makes a good neutron moderator in fission reactors. It is lighter than C (9 vs. 12), so a neutron can lose more energy in one collision with beryllium that with carbon. Neutron absorption reactions are Be9(n,α)He6 (winding up as Li6), and Be9(n,2n)Be8 (winding up as 2α). Beryllium is not only a moderator, but also a source of neutrons. Beryllium was considered a promising material for high-temperature nuclear reactors (carbon, of course, cannot be used). Beryllium was used as a neutron reflector to reduce the size of reactor cores. It is used in nuclear weapons for the same purpose.
Beryllium ores contain no more than 5% Be, because it is so light. The first step is to decompose the beryl, and separate the beryllium. This can be done with hydrofluoric acid or fluorides, producing a soluble fluoberyllate such as BeF2·2KF. Sulphates or chlorides can also be formed. Beryllium can then be precipitated as the hydroxide Be(OH)2, which on heating gives BeO. BeO, beryllia, is a very useful ceramic with a melting point of 2570°C and great resistance to thermal shock.
The metal can be produced by electrolysis at temperatures just below its melting point, or about 1300°C. Unlike most metallic halides, BeCl2 is poorly conducting when fused, so it is usually mixed with NaCl. Barium and sodium fluorides, in which BeO or BeF2 are dissolved, can also be electrolyzed. The metal is obtained in fine flakes or globules, and considerable processing is necessary to remove the slag. BeO can be reduced by carbon, but the product is the carbide, Be2C. Currently, the preferred method is reducing BeF2 by magnesium metal. In general, the metallurgy of beryllium is very difficult.
Beryllium and beryllium oxide in any forms are quite expensive, and this fact limits their use. The current price (2004) for the powder metal is $375 per pound, and for copper master alloy, $160 per pound of Be content.