Tantalum is represented by the Ta symbol and has an atomic number of 73. The element itself is a lustrous grayish-blue colored, hard transition metal that is considered to be rare in the Earth’s crust. Tantalum was previously called tantalium, which originated from Tantalus, one of Greek mythology’s many heroes.
There is a great deal of interesting information about tantalum, but we’re going to start you off small, with 10 quickly absorbable tidbits.
1. Anders Ekeberg discovered tantalum in 1802 in Sweden. However, there was lots of confusion associated with this metal and it came under scrutiny multiple times. The most well known instances being when it was thought to actually be columbium, which Heinrich Rose proved wrong and when it was thought to be niobium. These issues were not put to rest until 1864, when Christian Wilhelm Blomstrand, Louis J.Troost and Henri Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville proved the final unequivocal differences (this time between niobium and tantalum), thus determining that tantalus was its own element.
2. Tantalum wasn’t produced in metallic form until 1864, when De Marignac figured out that he could heat tantalum chloride in a hydrogen atmosphere to reduce it. In 1903, Werner von Bolton produced the first fairly pure and ductile tantalum metal.
3. Tantalum is extremely hard, dense, ductile and easily fabricated. It is also a great conductor of electricity and heat.
4. Tantalum is best known for its corrosion resistance to acids. In temperatures lower than 150 degrees Celsius, tantalum displays nearly complete immunity to aqua regia; however, it is capable of being dissolved by acidic solutions that contain sulfur trioxide and a fluoride ion.
5. It is estimated that tantalum is present in the Earth’s crust at a rate of 1 to 2 parts per million. Although there are several tantalum mineral species, very few are used as raw materials. Those minerals are: euxenite, microlite, polycrase, tantalite and wodginite.
6. The current largest producer of tantalum is Australia. The company, Global Advanced Metals, was formerly Talison Minerals and currently has two mines located in Western Australia.
7. Other producers of tantalum include: Brazil, Canada, China, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mozambique and Thailand. However, there are other sources of tantalum that are currently being explored. Several of these new sources are located in the same countries as current mining areas, such as Australia, Brazil, China and Mozambique, but many additional countries are being carefully explored, including: Canada, Egypt, Finland, Greenland, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
8. Tantalum is used most frequently to produce electronic components. However, it is also used in the production of several alloys and superalloys.
9. Tantalum oxide is also used to create index glass with a high level of refraction to be used as camera lenses. In addition, it can be used in the parts of vacuum furnaces due to its oxidation resistance and higher melting point.
10. Tantalum is considered to be biocompatible and has been used to create coatings and body implants. There is one single reference that links tantalum to the creation of sarcomas locally, but that study includes a note that the study does not wish to imply that tantalum is a carcinogen.