Lanthanum is a soft and malleable, silver-white metal that oxidises quickly in air. It is a chemical element and is represented by the atomic number 57 and the chemical symbol La. Due to the fact that it oxidizes, it is never found in its free form in nature. However, it can be found in some rare earth minerals. It is itself named as a rare earth element, but it is not actually all that rare. In terms of lanthanum production, the most important minerals are monazite and bastnäsite. It is from these minerals that much of the lanthanum is produced and they can contain up to 38% of the element. The extraction process starts with crushing and grinding the minerals and a process that includes electromagnetic separation and acid solution creates sulfates of the rare earth elements. From this step it is a relatively simple process to obtain the element. Let’s find out who discovered this interesting element and when it was discovered.
Who discovered lanthanum?
Lanthanum was discovered by Swedish chemist Carl Gustav Mosander (pictured) in 1839. He was studying a sample of cerium nitrate when he partially decomposed the sample by heating it and then treating it with nitric acid. Is was from the remaining solution that he was able to isolate a new rare earth which he called lantana. This name comes from a Greek word lanthan? which means to lie hidden.
Dmitri Mendeleev created an alternative technique for purifying lanthanum in the 1870′s, but it wasn’t isolated into pure form until much later. In 1923 it was isolated into a close to pure form, but the process to provide 99.99% pure lanthanum didn’t come until 1967.
Did you know?
Carl Gustav Mosander went on to discover two more elements in 1843: erbium and terbium. You can read more about terbium below.