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Niobium and tantalum: indispensable twins

July 2, 2014

Niobium and tantalum are transition metals almost always paired together in nature. These “twins” are difficult to separate because of their shared physical and chemical properties. In 1801, English chemist Charles Hatchett uncovered an unknown element in a mineral sample of columbite; John Winthrop found the sample in a Massachusetts mine and sent it to the British Museum in London in 1734. The name columbium, which Hatchet named the new element, came from the poetic name for North America—Columbia—and was used interchangeably for niobium until 1949, when the name niobium became official. Swedish scientist Anders Ekberg discovered tantalum in 1802, but it was confused with niobium, because of their twinned properties, until 1864, when it was recognized as a separate element. Niobium is a lustrous, gray, ductile metal with a high melting point, relatively low density, and superconductor properties. Tantalum is a dark blue-gray, dense, ductile, very hard, and easily fabricated metal. It is highly conductive to heat and electricity and renowned for its resistance to acidic corrosion. These special properties determine their primary uses and make niobium and tantalum indispensable.

Publication Year 2014
Title Niobium and tantalum: indispensable twins
DOI 10.3133/fs20143054
Authors Klaus Schulz, John Papp
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Fact Sheet
Series Number 2014-3054
Index ID fs20143054
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center