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Who Discovered Lithium?

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Lithium is an element known as an alkali metal, one of the lightest metals and very soft. Because of its lightweight and softness, it is one of the least dense solids on the periodic table. It has been used in its many forms as an important, if not, imperative part of medicine, engineering, electronics and rocketry to name but a few.

Lithium elementLithium’s atomic mass is 6.941 and it has an atomic number of 3.

It was a group effort

Like most discoveries, the discovery of Lithium was a sort of group effort. Johan Arfwedson of Sweden was the first person to discover Lithium in 1817, liberating it from petalite ore. Petalite ore had been discovered in 1800 in Brazil by Jose Bonifacio de Andrade de Silva. A Swedish chemist by the name of Jons Jakob Berzelius had the distinction of naming the element; he named it “lithos” which was later changed to lithium. Although the aforementioned discoveries were important, none of the scientists thus far had been able to isolate pure lithium without it being attached to its salts. It was not until 1821 when an English chemist by the name of William Thomas Brande successfully isolated Lithium via electrolysis of lithium oxide.

Johan Arfwedson, Jons Jakob Berzelius and William Thomas BrandeDiscovery of lithium was made possible by 3 scientist, Johan Arfwedson, Jons Jakob Berzelius and William Thomas Brande.

Many uses of lithium

Lithium is probably best known for its use in the field of medicine. As early as the 1800’s doctors were using lithium to treat several different ailments, particularly gout. Different types of lithium salts are still used today in the pharmaceutical industry as mood stabilizers; its probably best known for its use in the treatment of bipolar disorder or manic depression. Despite the wide use of lithium, it, like all other medicines, has several possible side effects including hypothyroidism, ataxia and involuntary muscle tremors.

Used in batteries

Lesser known, but equally important to society is lithium’s role in electronics. It is used in telecommunication equipment; most notably cell phones. Because of its special properties, it is also used to make batteries, hence the “lithium ion” batteries that can be found in any store and are touted as the best batteries to use. Lithium, when compared to other elements, is one of the newer metals that is still being studied today, in an attempt to find even more uses for this versatile element.

More on lithium: Who invented batteries?.