The discovery of lithium is attributed to Johan Arfvedson of Sweden. He was analyzing a sample of petalite, which is lithium aluminum silicate. He reported the presence of silica, aluminum and an alkali. Further testing on the alkali showed that it was neither sodium nor potassium. This discovery took place in 1817, so lithium was discovered less than 200 years ago.
After discovering this new alkali, Johan attempted to produce a pure sample. He ran into great difficulties however, as the battery he was using for electrolysis was simply not powerful enough to produce the pure element.
Within the next year, another Swedish chemist, William Brande was successful in isolating the pure element lithium by conducting the chemical procedure called lithium carbonate electrolysis. An English chemist, Humphry Davy, was also successful in this same procedure. Although the actual discovery of lithium is given to Arfvedson, these two chemists are an integral part of the history of lithium purification and production.
Back in those times, chemists still conducted some of their research testing by doing taste tests of the solutions. Humphry Davy reported in his notes that the lithium solution had the same acrid taste as the other alkali metals. Davy is considered to be the first scientist to produce lithium on a large scale.
The name for lithium was taken from a Greek word, lithos, which means stone. There are a few interesting facts about lithium; one of them is that it is the only element in the group of alkalis that will react with nitrogen. Furthermore, the ions in a lithium carbonate compound have been widely used in medicine for the purpose of inhibiting or controlling the manic phase of bipolar – formerly called manic depressive disorder.
Lithium is also used in the batteries of modern technology, such as computers and cell phones. Lithium batteries deliver a great deal of energy in comparison to their weight. This ration is called energy density, and the value is high for lithium batteries.
Lithium is also important in the manufacture of airplane parts. It is combined with cadmium, copper and other metals to make high-performance metal alloys. These alloys can withstand a great deal of stress, weather and pressure – which makes them ideal for use on aircraft.
The discovery of lithium is an important one as you can see; lithium has many uses and there are probably more applications just waiting to be discovered. It’s interesting though; lithium is so reactive that it isn’t found in nature as a pure element. It is always found as a compound and has to be purified by electrolysis or some other chemical process.
Lithium has a cubic shaped crystalline structure. Currently the pure form of the element is produced by passing a charge through a liquid called spodumene, which is melted lithium chloride. At room temperature, lithium is a solid. However, it exists as a liquid in many states at different temperatures.