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(Ytterby, village in Sweden) Marignac in 1878 discovered a new component, which he
called ytterbia, in the earth then known as erbia. In 1907, Urbain separated ytterbia into
two components, which he called neoytterbia and lutecia. The elements in these earths are
now known as ytterbium and lutetium, respectively. These elements are identical with
aldebaranium and cassiopeium, discovered independently and at about the same time by von
Ytterbium occurs along with other rare earths in a number of rare minerals. It is
commercially recovered principally from monazite sand, which contains about 0.03%.
Ion-exchange and solvent extraction techniques developed in recent years have greatly
simplified the separation of the rare earths from one another.
The element was first prepared by Klemm and bonner in 1937 by reducing ytterbium
trichloride with potassium. Their metal was mixed, however, with KCl. Daane, Dennison, and
Spedding prepared a much purer from in 1953 from which the chemical and physical
properties of the element could be determined.
Ytterbium has a bright silvery luster, is soft, malleable, and quite ductile. While the
element is fairly stable, it should be kept in closed containers to protect it from air
and moisture. Ytterbium is readily attacked and dissolved by dilute and concentrated
mineral acids and reacts slowly with water. Ytterbium has three allotropic forms with
transformation points at -13oC
and 795oC. The beta form
is a room-temperature, face-centered, cubic modification, while the high-temperature gamma
form is a body-centered cubic form. Another body-centered cubic phase has recently been
found to be stable at high pressures at room temperatures. The beta form ordinarily has
metallic-type conductivity, but becomes a semiconductor when the pressure is increased
about 16,000 atm. The electrical resistance increases tenfold as the pressure is increased
to 39,000 atm and drops to about 10% of its standard temperature-pressure resistivity at a
pressure of 40,000 atm. Natural ytterbium is a mixture of seven stable isotopes. Seven
other unstable isotopes are known.
Ytterbium metal has possible use in improving the grain refinement, strength, and other
mechanical properties of stainless steel. One isotope is reported to have been used as a
radiation source substitute for a portable X-ray machine where electricity is unavailable.
Few other uses have been found.
Ytterbium metal is commercially available with a purity of about 99+% for about
Ytterbium has a low acute toxic rating.
Sources: CRC Handbook of Chemistry
and Physics and the American Chemical Society.
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