Discovery of Lithium

Lithium is a white silvery alkali metal that is very light and reactive especially with oxygen and it does not exist freely in nature. Unlike other Group one metals like Sodium and Potassium which were first discovered in plants, Lithium was discovered in mineral form by the Swede scientist Johan Arfvedson. Its name, Lithium is from a Greek name (Lithos) which means stone and forms only 0.0007% of the Earth’s crust. Lithium also reacts with water but not as violently as Sodium and it is the only common metal that reacts with nitrogen at room temperature to form Lithium Nitrate. The discovery of Lithium came with great advantages especially to the electronic, medicine and aviation industries that have put the alkali metal into good use. This paper will have a deep insight in to the discovery of Lithium and how it is a revolutionary element in the universe.

Lithium was first noticed incidentally in the mineral petalite (LiAlSi4O10) in the year 1817 by the Swede scientist Johan Arfvedson as he was analysing the mineral in Stockholm Sweden. In his analysis, Arfvedson found out that the mineral contained Alumina, silica and an alkali that had unique characteristics different from those of known alkali metals. The typical alkali metal required higher acid quantities than Sodium to neutralise it and its carbonate was not completely soluble in water unlike Sodium Carbonate which is readily soluble in water at room temperature. The alkali metal also differed from Potassium as it did not give a precipitate with tartaric acid and this made Arfvedson to try to extract the metal through electrolysis but he did not succeed.

The pure metal was isolated the following year by two scientists working independently, William Brande from Sweden and Humphrey Davy from England, from Lithium Oxide (Li2O) which marked a turning point in its analysis. They realised that the metal burned with a red flame and produced an alkaline solution when dissolved in water and they concluded that it was an alkali metal. It was not until the year 1855 that scientists were able to produce large quantities of the metal from the electrolysis of Lithium Chloride and they also started exploring the metal for industrial use.

Since its discovery, Lithium has had very many industrial uses some of which are revolutionary. For instance because of its high heat capacity, it is used in heat transfer applications and it has also changed the electronic industry as it is used to make Lithium batteries that have higher charge density than batteries made from any other element. Due to its very light density, it is alloyed with Aluminium to make strong light weight metal for aircraft and it is also used in medicine to make drugs used for treatment of the manic depression disorder.