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A magnesium-based paint was used for the captivating images on the Lascaux cave walls in France. This is just one example of the early knowledge and use of magnesium.

The second element of the alkaline earth metals, magnesium is the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust. It is a fairly strong, light metal that is used commercially in bicycle frames and aircraft.

The green pigment in plants is due to the copious amounts of magnesium present in their chlorophyll molecules that are critical in the process of plant photosynthesis. In animals, magnesium is essential for the functioning of certain enzymes. A magnesium deficiency could lead to hyper-irritability and, in extreme cases, tremors, disorientation or even convulsions.

The National Research Council Canada (NRC) has been involved in research and development related to magnesium. Past work has involved discovering a faster method of producing this metal and eliminating impurities in magnesite, which is used in high temperature steel furnaces. These discoveries have lowered imports of magnesium by Canada.

At NRC, the Institute for Microstructural Sciences is at the forefront of Organic Light Emitting Device (OLED) technology. Researchers use co-deposition of magnesium and silver as cathodes in these devices. OLEDs offer the possibility of low driving voltage, high brightness, and efficiency. Organic light emitting devices are already on the market in cellular phones and automotive displays.


Other Applications

  • Magnesium produces a characteristic white light while burning and thus is used in flares and pyrotechnics.
  • In medicine, magnesium sulfate is an effective laxative, and the hydroxide – milk of magnesia – is both an antacid and laxative.
  • Carbonates of magnesium have been used in the manufacture of cosmetics, rubber, and pharmaceuticals.