Barium is a chemical element in the Periodic Table marked with the atomic number of 56 and with the chemical symbol Ba. This chemical element belongs to period 6 elements and the Alkaline Earth Metals category. Similar to the rest of the Alkaline Earth Metal elements Barium possesses various metallic properties. In the Periodic Table Barium is preceded by Cesium and is followed by Lanthanum.
This particular Alkaline Earth Metal element is extremely reactive. As such it cannot exist freely in nature on our planet. It can be found in a mixture with other elements in the minerals barite and witherite, both of which are insoluble in water. This group 2 element has no known biological roles for humans and other types of biological organism on Earth. Some of its compounds are toxic and it has only a few commercial applications mainly in metallurgy, lighting installations, glass manufacturing and ceramics.
Physical Characteristics of Barium
In terms of physical characteristics Barium is a typical Alkaline Earth Metal. It is a soft metallic element, which has a silvery-white color with rare golden hues. When Barium is exposed to air it oxidizes and its metallic finish vanishes. It exists in a solid state with a typical body-centered cubic crystal structure. Its melting points and boiling points are moderately high and it is paramagnetic. Barium salts, oxides and ions are either white or colorless. Some Barium compounds burn with pale or brilliant green shade when subjected to a flame test. This chemical element needs to be stored either in argon atmosphere or in a container filled with mineral oil as a prevention method to its vigorous chemical reactivity.
Chemical Properties of Barium
Atomic Number – 56
Group – 2
Period – 6
Block – s
Electronic Configuration – 6s2
Relative Atomic Mass – 137.327 (137.327 g/mol)
Molecular Weight – 137.327
Electronegativity – 0.89
Density (G CM-3) – 3.51 g/cm3 at room temperature; 3.338 g/cm3 in liquid state
Melting Point – 1000 K; 727 °C; 1341 °F
Boiling Point – 2118 K; 1845 °C; 3353 °F
Atomic Radius – 222 pm
Isotopes – 7
Electronic Shell – 2, 8, 18, 18, 8, 2
Discovery of Barium
Barium stones have been known to mankind even back in the Middle Ages. However, one specific scientist is credited with the sole discovery of this Alkaline Earth Metal. Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a Swedish chemist, discovered the element in a sample of Barite back in 1772. However, he wasn’t able to isolate the element itself – only oxides. Several scientists attempted to isolate pure Barium up until 1808 when Humphy Davy, a Cornish chemist, succeeded through electrolysis. He was also the one, who proposed the final name for the new element – Barium.
Recognized by: Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1772)
Known and discovered by: Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1772)
Named by: Humphry Davy (1808)
Uses and role of Barium
Due to the fact that Barium has a noteworthy high reactivity towards many elements and their compounds, it actually has only a few known commercial uses – many in glass manufacturing and ceramics, metallurgy, lighting installations. This element doesn’t play any known biological role to human beings and other living organisms on Earth.
Barium is valued in various aspects of metallurgy, especially when combined with Aluminum. It also finds applications when alloyed with Calcium, Iron, Nickel, and Silicon. Barium sulfate plays a big role in the petroleum industry in gas or oil wells acting as a drilling fluid. This chemical element also has application in various lighting installations, X-rays, fluorescent lamps, infrared optics and fireworks.
Barium on Earth
As a highly reactive chemical element and a relatively toxic one Barium does not occur in its natural form as a free element on Earth. Instead, it can be found in the Earth’s crust in minerals like Barite and witherite. It is also abundant in seawater, but it’s categorized as a rare element compared to other Alkaline Earth Metals. The biggest and most productive Barium reserves are found in the UK, Romania and some parts of Russia.
It has been discovered that extremely low doses of water soluble Barium compounds may serve as a muscle stimulant. However, it has been proven that such compounds are rather toxic, poisonous and dangerous to the nervous system, the eyes, the respiratory system, and the heart. As such, it cannot be used in medicine as a muscle stimulant.