Germanium, chemical symbol Ge, is the 32 element on the periodic table with an atomic mass of 72.63. It is a hard gray-white substance that is found in zinc, silver, lead and copper ores. A German chemist called Clemens Winkler discovered the element in 1886 and named it after Germany. The main production of germanium is as a byproduct from zinc ore and there is over 100 tonnes produced each year. It is highly sought-after for its important applications.
Uses of germanium
- Germanium is used as a semiconductor material. It is commonly used, together with silicon, in high speed integrated circuits for improved performance. There is some work being done to replace silicon with germanium in miniaturized chips.
- It is also used in fluorescent lamps and some LEDs.
- Some guitar effects pedals contain germanium transistors to produce a distinctive fuzz distortion tone.
- It can be used in solar panels. In fact, the Mars Exploration Rovers contain germanium in their solar cells.
- Germanium is combined with oxygen for use in camera lenses and microscopy. It is also used in the core of optical fiber cables.
- It is also used in thermal imaging applications for military and fire fighting use.
- It is also used in airport screening, and other applications, to detect sources of radiation.
- There are some suggestions that it can be used to support the immune system of cancer patients, but this is still being debated. The FCC now lists germanium as a potential health hazard when used as nutritional supplement.