Saturday, April 30, 2011

Y is for Yttrium

So close to the finish line, and I drop the ball and forget to post on Friday.  Oh well.  Here was my planned post for Y, which was incidentally just as hard as U and Q.

I've thought yttrium was a pretty cool element ever since I heard about it back in the 1980s.  I learned about it either from a TV special, or a National Geographic article on superconductors.  Yttrium is a key element in yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO), what is known as a "high temperature superconductor" because it displays superconductivity above the boiling point of nitrogen.  This is a big deal, because instead of having to use very expensive liquid helium (boiling point 4.2 K) to cool the superconductor, you can instead use the comparatively inexpensive liquid nitrogen (boiling point 77.1 K).  I thought this was particularly cool because of the pictures they always showed of levitating superconducting magnets

Yttrium is a transition metal and a rare earth element with the atomic symbol Y (making it perfect for today, er, yesterday) and atomic number 39.  Its name, interestingly, comes from a town in Sweden called Ytterby, on the Stockholm archipelago.  In fact, three other elements -- ytterbium, erbium, and terbium -- were similarly named after the town because they were also discovered in the quarry near Ytterby.  It is the 28th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and it is used in a number of applications beyond superconductors, including making synthetic garnets, increasing the strength of various alloys, and the radioisotope yttrium-90 has a number of medical applications.

That's it for today's foray into the periodic table.  Hopefully I won't forget to post Z tonight, so I can finish off this A to Z Blogging Challenge on the right foot!

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