Periodic Table -> Germanium
Germanium DetailsGermanium Symbol:
GeGermanium Atomic Number:
32Germanium Atomic Weight:
72.63What is Germanium?
The element Germanium
is known by the symbol Ge, and its atomic number is 32. It was named by the German scientist Clemens Winkler after his country. Germanium is grayish-white in color, hard, and shimmers. It is semi-metal, which is solid at room temperature. A member of the carbon group of elements, its chemical makeup is similar to that of silicon and tin. This element has five isotopes, which occur in nature, and forms a number of compounds as well. It is used in semiconductors, fiber-optic systems, infrared optics, and in other electronics. Recently, it is also being used in nanowires.
The main source of germanium is sphalerite, but it can also be found in copper, silver, and lead ores. Crystalline germanium has been produced using zone refining techniques. There is no need to produce germanium in laboratory conditions because it is available commercially. However, germanium is a relatively rare metal and 1 kg cost $800 in 1999. When handling certain germanium compounds, it is necessary to take precaution, because they can cause inflammation of the eyes, skin, lungs, and throat.
There are five naturally occurring isotopes of this element - Ge 70, Ge 72, Ge 73, Ge 74, and Ge 76. The last one is a little radioactive with the notable half-life of 1.78 × 1021 yr. The isotope of germanium that is most frequently found is Ge 74. The least common is Ge 76.
Around 27 synthetic isotopes of this element exist. Their atomic mass ranges from 58 to 89.
Germanium also occurs in the atmospheres of distant stars and planets, such as Jupiter. A number of minerals, such as argyrodite and briartite, contain substantial quantities of germanium.
It is not very easy to produce germanium. Worldwide production averages about 100 tons per year. One-third of the demand for germanium is met by recycled germanium. Some coal deposits have large amounts of germanium, especially those found in Russia and China, where coal deposits are frequently used as a source.
Germanium is used for polymerization catalysts, although that is not the most popular use. A small amount goes for phosphors, chemotherapy, and metallurgy. This element is exceptionally useful for the core part of optical fibers, microscopy and wide-angle camera lenses because of its low optical dispersion and high index of refraction. It is also widely used for silica fibers. Compounds including germanium are used in the production of rewritable DVDs. This element is transparent, which is why it can easily be used to make lenses and windows after it is polished. It is also used in thermal imaging cameras, to detect military targets, for night vision system in cars, and in the fire fighting sector.
When germanium is doped with indium, gallium, arsenic, phosphorus, or antimony, it is used to produce transistors for some electronic devices. In fluorescent lamps, germanium is used as a phosphor. It is also added to alloys. Germanium oxide and germanium have application in infrared detectors and infrared optical devices and are transparent to radiation. Some of the compounds of germanium destroy certain types of bacteria. They are characterized with a low mammalian toxicity. The properties of these compounds are studied to be used in chemotherapy.
An important new use of germanium is in solar panels. Derivatives of this element are used in the production of solar cells.
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