Dysprosium is a soft, bright silver, rare earth element that is never found in free form in nature. However, it is found as a part of many minerals, usually along with other rare earth elements. It is a chemical element with the atomic number 66 and is represented by the chemical symbol Dy. It occurs at about 5.2mg/kg in the crust of the Earth. It is most commonly produced as a by-product during the extraction of the element yttrium. The largest amounts of dysprosium are mined in China, but large deposits are thought to be found in the north of Western Australia. Let’s find out who discovered this rare element.
Who discovered dysprosium?
In 1878 ores containing erbium were also found to contain oxides of thulium and holmium. It was this discovery that led to the discovery of dysprosium. While studying the oxide of holmium the French chemist Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran was able to separate dysprosium oxide from it. He made over 30 attempts at isolating this new element before he was successful. After his discovery he named the element dysprosium from the Greek word dysprositos, which means “hard to get” or “difficult to get at”!
Amazingly, it was more than 70 years before the element was isolated into relatively pure form. Frank Spalding, a chemist working at Iowa State University, was the first to do so in the early 1950’s after the development of ion exchange techniques.
Did you know?
The element californium (a synthetic element synthesised by Glenn T. Seaborg, Kenneth Street, Jr., Albert Ghiorso, and Stanley G. Thompson) was named in honor of dysprositos because those coming for the gold rush found it “hard to get” to California.
Dysprosium is so soft that it can be cut with a knife!