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Beryllium

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Beryllium

Beryllium

The name beryllium comes from the Greek word "beryllos" that describes the industrially important stone beryl. Emerald is a precious form of beryllium mineral containing traces of chromium that add a green hue to the stone.

Alloys of beryllium with copper and nickel have excellent electrical and thermal conductivities. For this reason, these alloys are used for fabricating aircrafts, missiles, spacecraft, and communication satellites.

Exposure to this element is hazardous as it can cause acute and chronic respiratory disease as well as dermatitis. Acute respiratory disease usually lasts a few days, but a chronic lung disease – berylliosis – is more severe as the lungs are inflamed from inhalation of beryllium's fumes and dust. Skin contact with soluble beryllium salts is more common. Symptoms include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and rashes that develop on affected surfaces sometimes embedding particles of beryllium within the skin.

The Canadian Neutron Beam Centre (CNBC) at the National Research Council Canada (NRC) employs beryllium because its crystalline structure is ideal for use as a filter for neutron beams. An operating nuclear reactor's core is densely populated with neutrons created by the fission of atoms of the nuclear fuel. Beams of neutrons "shine" out of ports in the side of the reactor where they are filtered by beryllium before being directed at material samples. Analysis of the diffracted beam of neutrons provides information about the material under examination.

 

Other Applications

 

  • The beryllium-copper alloy is used for non-sparking tools and electrical contacts.
  • Gyroscopes and computer parts where lightness and wear-resistance are essential also make use of the beryllium-copper alloy.
  • Beryllium's permeability to x-rays makes it useful in the manufacture of windows for radiation detectors.