In 1817, an
aging Swedish chemist was pouring over his work on a late afternoon
in Stockholm, Sweden. He was analyzing a strange ore named Petalite
that had been procured from an island off the coast of Sweden called
Utö. The ore Petalite (which is now recognized to be LiAl(Si2O5)2)
had been discovered by a Brazilian scientist, José Bonifácio de
Andrada e Silva towards the end of the 18th century on a visit to
Sweden. This Swedish scientist, Johann August Arfvedson, detected
traces of an unknown substance in his sample of Petalite. This was
the first discovery of Lithium.
From the Greek
word "lithos" meaning "stone", it was so named
due to the fact that it was discovered from a mineral source; whereas
the other two common Group 1 elements, Sodium and Potassium, were
found in plant sources. Its symbol, Li, was taken directly from its
name. Soon after stumbling upon Lithium, Arfvedson also found traces
of the metal in the minerals Spodumene and Lepidolite. In 1818, C.G.
Gmelin discovered that Lithium salts color flames a bright red.
Neither, Gmelin or Arfvedson, however, were able to isolate the
element itself from the Lithium salts. They both tried to reduce the
oxide by heating it with Iron or Carbon, but neither met with the
success of W.T. Brande and Sir Humphrey Davy. They managed to perform
the first isolation of elemental Lithium by the electrolysis of
Lithium oxide. Electrolysis is a chemical reaction, which is brought
about by the passage of current from an external energy source such
as a battery. In 1855, the scientists Bunsen and Mattiessen isolated
larger quantities of the metal by electrolysis of Lithium chloride.
or team of scientists had so much trouble reducing the Lithium
compounds because Lithium does not exist in its elemental form in
nature. It combines very easily with other elements. Lithium is a
soft silvery-white lustrous metal, which can be easily cut with a
knife, and it is the lightest of all known metals. It is highly
reactive with water and air, and tarnishes readily when exposed to
the latter due to a formation of a layer of Lithium suboxide on its
surface. Because of its high rate of reaction to air, it must be
stored under liquid paraffin, oil, or kerosene, which contain no air,
to prevent oxidation. Lithium is detected in its compounds by the
characteristic red coloration that it imparts to flames when burned,
as Gmelin detected, and by spectroscopic methods.
Lithium and its compounds are used in hundreds of different ways.
Lithium carbonate has been found highly beneficial to several mental
disorders, the most common being manic depressive disorder. It is
also used in making very durable glasses and enamels. Lithium
hydroxide is used as an absorber of Carbon dioxide in closed
environments such as spacecrafts and submarines, as well as a main
ingredient in many specialty greases and lubricants due to its high
resistance to water and its usefulness at extremely high and low
temperatures. Lithium urate is used in the medical treatment of gout,
since it is one of the few soluble salts of uric acid. In addition,
Lithium is used as an alloy with aluminum, manganese, and cadmium to
create high-performance materials for spacecrafts, to manufacture
strong railroad car bearings in Europe, as an ingredient in various
nuclear applications, to create battery anode material and in dry
cell and storage batteries (cell phones, etc), and recent studies
have shown that small traces of Lithium are a very important nutrient
to the human body. Due to the importance that the metal is kept
entirely free of air and water while reduced, packed, shipped, and
stored for commercial uses, the element can be significantly
In the early
1950’s, when Lithium was first discovered as a method of treatment
for patients with mental disorders, doctors started to prescribe very
high dosages of the new "wonder" drug, Lithium carbonate.
It became evident to the patients, doctors, and public that those
patients on Lithium carbonate were experiencing some very serious
side effects including vomiting, tremors, drowsiness, excessive
urination, abdominal pain, skin eruptions, hallucinations, seizures,
and in extreme cases, even a coma. This led to the need for doctors
to closely monitor the blood-lithium levels of their patients, but
the public remained scared. In spite of the very obvious difference
between a trace element found in nature and a high dosage drug, many
people became confused with the simple trace element "lithium"
and the prescription drug "lithium carbonate". Lithium is
found particularly in igneous rocks, and is therefore found more
abundantly in many mineral springs, artesian wells, and certain
desert inland seas. People became frightened that if they continued
to drink water from these sources or consume food from the family
Solanaceae (which is high in Lithium), such as tomatoes, tobacco,
potatoes, and green peppers, they would experience the same side
effects first observed with the usage of the drug in mental patients.
As an effort to relieve the qualms of the public, scientists began to
perform studies on the effects of Lithium on people and animals. They
found that Lithium improves glucose intake into cells, bone growth,
and fertility, aids in treating sodium imbalances, and reduces
hypertension in hypertensive patients. Lithium was even found to
prevent the occurrence of cavities! A five-year study was performed
on the effects of the amount of Lithium in an area’s water and that
same area’s admission rate to mental institutions and its rates of
homicide, suicide, rape, and theft. It was found that areas where the
residents were exposed to little or no Lithium, the admission rates
were much higher than normal and that re-admissions were even more
common. The research also showed an increase in homicides, suicides,
rapes, and thefts over areas where the people ingested just
one-fiftieth the amount prescribed to the most moderate mental
patient. They also found that Lithium could control episodic
outbreaks of rage among prisoners, suppress cocaine-induced
hypersensitivity reactions, and prevent behavioral alterations due to
social isolation and confinement.
information about Lithium is as follows. Lithium’s Atomic Number is
3, its Atomic Mass is 6.941 amu, its melting point is 180.54 degrees
Celsius, its boiling point is 1347.0 degrees Celsius, its number of
Protons and Electrons is 3, its number of neutrons is 4, its
classification is an Alkali Metal, its Crystal structure is
cubic-centered, and its density is 0.53 g/cm3 (@ 293 K).
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