Swedish chemist Lars Fredrik Nilson discovered scandium in 1879 while he was attempting to produce a sample of ytterbium from the minerals euxenite and gadolinite. The element, scandium, was named after Scandinavia which was the source of the mineral samples. Scandium is a silvery-white metal, which develops a slightly yellowish or pinkish cast upon exposure to air, is relatively soft, and reacts rapidly with many acids. As it exhibits chemical and physical properties similar to yttrium and heavy rare earths, it has historically been classified as a rare earth element.
Today, although scandium can be obtained from rare minerals like thortvetite, it is usually obtained as a byproduct of mining of other metals, or refining uranium.
Estimates of the global annual production of scandium range from 4 to 8 tonnes per annum, and consequently it is a very high priced metal used in small amounts in specialized applications. The positive effects of scandium in aluminum alloys were discovered in the 1970s, and its use in such alloys remains the only major application of scandium.
APPLICATIONS OF SCANDIUM
Aluminum alloys: The main application of scandium is in aluminum-scandium alloys for minor aerospace industry components. These alloys contain between 0.1% and 0.5% by weight of scandium. The addition of scandium to aluminum limits an excessive grain growth that occurs in the heat-affected zone of welded aluminum components.
Some sports equipment, which rely on high performance materials, have been made with scandium-aluminum alloys, including baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, as well as bicycle frames and related components. Titanium alloys, which are of similar in weight and strength, are cheaper and more widely used in these applications.
Other uses: It is expected that scandium-aluminum alloys will be important in the manufacture of fuel cells. Scandium oxide (Sc2O3), also known as scandia, is used in the production of high intensity "stadium" lights. Scandium iodide (ScI3) is added to mercury vapor lamps so that they will emit light that closely resembles sunlight and allows good color-reproduction with TV cameras. The radioactive isotope Sc is used in oil refineries as a tracing agent, and gun manufacturers produces guns with frames composed of scandium aluminum alloys.
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