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Cobalt is a hard, silvery-blue ferromagnetic metal. Widely distributed on Earth, this element is also found abundantly in meteorites. Many of cobalt's salts are employed in the production of glass, porcelain, pottery, and tiles due to their beautiful, deep blue colour. Other compounds of cobalt are used as paint pigments.
A small amount of cobalt salts is also essential to human and animal health. This element is a constituent of the nutrient cobalamin – also known as vitamin B12 – that is essential for the prevention of pernicious anaemia. A deficiency of this nutrient can cause fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and even neurological changes such as numbness and tingling of the hands and feet.
The artificial radioisotope, cobalt-60, was first used to treat cancer in 1951. At the time, the National Research Council Canada (NRC) supplied the necessary field measurements for its use. The new therapy revolutionized treatment for cancer located deep in the body, where previous radiation therapies had proven ineffective. More than seven million people have benefited from cobalt-60 therapy worldwide. Today, Canada produces about 85 per cent of the world's supply of cobalt-60, and the NRC Institute for National Measurement Standards maintains the radiation standards in Canada.