Niobium might sound like a somewhat noble name for an element. In a way, it is. This element’s name was obtained from Greek mythology. Tantalus, one of Zeus’ sons and ruler of an Anatolian city, had three children; one of which was named Niobe. The element itself is represented on the periodic table by the Nb symbol and the atomic number of 41.
But there’s a lot more to learn about Niobium! Here are ten more interesting things that you should know about this fascinating metal.
1. Charles Hatchett, an English chemist, discovered niobium in 1801. He discovered this new element in a sample that John Winthrop had sent to England in 1734 from Massachusetts and he named it “columbium” and named the mineral accompanying it “columbite”.
2. The element didn’t earn the name “niobium” until 1846 when Heinrich Rose, a German chemist, found it in tantalite (which was named for Tantalus) and accordingly named it after a child of Tantalus. Columbium was the name widely used in the U.S. even in the 1950’s and Europe used niobium; however, the Union of Chemistry Conference officially decided that niobium would be the elements name in 1949. It is still called columbium today by many American metal societies, metallurgists and, more surprisingly, by the USGS.
3. Niobium is gray in color and very lustrous. It is a paramagnetic, ductile metal and, under cryogenic temperatures, will become a superconductor. It also possesses the maximum
penetration depth when compared to all other elements.
4. Even though tantalum-free niobium was able to be produced on a large scale basis in 1866, wide scale production didn’t begin until the 20th century when it started being used in the production of filaments for incandescent lamps.
5. Niobium comes in at number 33 as one of the Earth’s most common elements. Its current
estimated rate in the Earth’s crust is 20 ppm. However, this element isn’t found as a free
element in nature.
6. Niobium reacts with the majority of nonmetals at higher temperatures. For instance, at room temperature, it will react with fluorine, with hydrogen or chlorine at 200 degrees Celsius and, at 400 degrees Celsius, it will react with nitrogen.
7. Niobium is used for steel as a microalloying element. When you add niobium to steel, it causes niobium nitride and niobium carbide to form in the steel’s structure. This improves precipitation hardening, grain refining and it also retards the recrystallization of steel. In turn, this increases the weldability, toughness, formability and strength of microalloyed steel.
8. Niobium is primarily used to produce high-grade structural steel and it’s also used in producing superalloys.
9. Other than steel production and superalloys, niobium is also used in creating superconducting magnets, superconducting radio frequency, electroceramics, hypoallergenic jewelry and medical implants and other equipment.
10. Although Molybdenum Wire has no role in biology, its dust is considered to be a skin and eye irritant, as well as a possible fire hazard. Niobium compounds are considered toxic and should be handled with great care.