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The first of the transition elements, scandium is thought to be responsible for the blue colour of beryl, a precious stone of the aquamarine variety. This silvery-white metal tarnishes in air, casting a yellowish or pinkish tinge.
Designers of spacecraft are becoming more interested in scandium, a light metal with a higher melting point than aluminum, for the fabrication of space industry materials. Interestingly, another important use for scandium is in the telecommunications industry – the element's iodide, when added to mercury vapour lamps, produces a light source comparable to that of sunlight, making scandium important for night time colour television transmission.
Although scandium has no known biological role, it may be vital in the development of vaccines, such as one for Group B Streptococcus (GBS). GBS is a bacteria that causes an infection leading to mental and physical impairment, and even death, in newborns. Currently, infected infants are treated with antibiotics. Research to combat this disease more effectively has led scientists at the National Research Council Canada (NRC) to use scandium as a important reagent in a reaction that may be valuable in the vaccine development process.
Sugars play a critical role in the recognition of antigens – foreign molecules such as bacteria in the body. The importance of the scandium reagent lies in its efficient synthesis of short sugar chains – oligosaccharides. In this reaction, a "linker" remains attached to a newly formed oligosaccharide sugar. Researchers believe that this "linker" may be the key in attaching synthesized sugars to protein carriers for the development of a vaccine to fight GBS.