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Selenium was discovered in 1817 by Jons Jacob Berzelius who found the element associated with tellurium.
Growth in selenium consumption was driven by the development of new uses, including applications in rubber compounding, steel alloying, and selenium rectifiers. By 1970, selenium in rectifiers had largely been replaced by silicon, but its use as a photoconductor in plain paper copiers had become its leading application. During the 1980s, the photoconductor application declined (although it was still a large end-use) as more and more copiers using organic photoconductors were produced. In 1996, continuing research showed a positive correlation between selenium supplementation and cancer prevention in humans, but widespread direct application of this important finding would not add significantly to demand owing to the small doses required. In the late 1990s, the use of selenium (usually with bismuth) as an additive to plumbing brasses to meet no-lead environmental standards became important.
Because of its photovoltaic and photoconductive properties, selenium is used extensively in electronics, such as photo cells, and solar cells. Selenium is also extensively used in rectifiers.
Selenium is used to remove color from glass, as it will counteract the green color ferrous impurities impart. It also can be used to give a red color to glasses and enamels. Selenium is used to improve the abrasion resistance in vulcanized rubbers. It also finds application in photocopying.
Selenium compounds are photo-sensitive, and form the basis of all modern photocopier (Xerox) machines, as well as all laser printers. The drum is charged with static electricity and then exposed to the image to be reproduced. Where light strikes the drum, the static is dissipated. Then the drum is dusted with toner, which sticks only where there is static.
The neat thing about selenium light meters is that they require no batteries: The selenium sensor works like a photocell to generate its own electricity. This meter, having been repaired only 30 years ago, works perfectly.(fig.4 pag.3)
Another use for selenium is the toning of photographs, and is sold by numerous photographic manufacturers including Kodak and Fotospeed. Its artistic use is to intensify and extend the tonal range of black and white photographic images, and it can also be used for increasing the permanence of images.