Lutetium is a silvery white metal that corrodes in moist atmospheric conditions. It is a chemical element and is represented by the symbol Lu and the atomic number 71. It is considered to be a rare earth element and occurs at just 0.5mg/kg in the crust of the earth. It is never found in free form in nature, but is found in small amounts as a part of certain minerals. The only commercially viable source of lutetium is monazite, which contains just 0.0001% of lutetium! The worldwide production is just 10 tonnes a year and most lutetium is produced in China, the United States, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka and Australia. It is one of the rarest and expensive metals and costs about $10,000 per kg! Let’s find out who discovered this rare element.
Who discovered lutetium?
Amazingly, this metal was discovered by three separate scientists in the same year. Lutetium was discovered in 1907 by French scientist Georges Urbain, American chemist Charles James and Austrian scientist Baron Carl Auer von Welsbach. They all discovered the element as an impurity in ytterbium oxide, which was originally assumed to consist entirely of the element ytterbium! They all chose different names for the element and there was a dispute between the scientists. Eventually the International Commission on Atomic Weights settled the dispute by granting the naming rights to Urbain because he was the first to describe the separation process. The first sample of pure metal was produced in 1953.
Did you know?
Even though the naming rights for the element went to Urbain it was later found that his sample only contained traces of the element and Welsbach’s sample was pure. In fact, it was so pure that he thought that he had discovered a completely different element! Charles James stayed out of the argument surrounding the element and instead produced the largest supply of the element.