Thorium is a silvery metal with the atomic number 90 and the symbol Th. It has a high melting point and is relatively hard. Thorium is used in a variety of applications, including in high-end optical devices and scientific instruments. We’ve collected a bunch more fun and interesting Thorium facts below:
- Norwegian mineralogist Morten Thrane Esmark is credited with the discovery of Thorium in 1829: Esmark had a habit of looking for minerals and would send interesting specimens to his dad. His dad in turn sent the specimens to a Swedish chemist, Jöns Jacob Berzelius, who would check to see if they were new elements.
- Berzelius decided to name the element Thorium in honor of the Norse god of thunder, Thor: That was probably a good decision, as naming it after Esmark – Esmarkium – doesn’t have quite as good a ring to it!
- After being discovered, thorium started to become used in a bunch of different applications: However, it wasn’t until the radioactivity of thorium was noticed that its use started to be scaled back over concerns about the affect on humans.
- One of the first major applications of thorium was in the gas mantle – an early portable source of light: This was invented by Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach, a man who also discovered the metal neodymium.
- In fact, the radioactive decay of thorium is believed to be the largest single contributor to the internal heat of Earth: Natural thorium is known for having a half-life equal to that of the age of the entire universe.
- Despite thorium eventually losing popularity due to concerns over its radioactivity, it was initially billed as a cure for several medical conditions: Doctors prescribed thorium to treat patients suffering from diabetes and rheumatism. However, this would cease in the 1930s following several studies into the harmful effects of radioactivity.
- While there is much more thorium than uranium in the world, the latter is generally favoured for nuclear power production for its stability and safer characteristics: Used thorium fuel is much more dangerous to process than the uranium equivalent.
- There is very little demand for thorium – estimated to be under 100 tonnes per year: This means that it doesn’t make sense economically for the metal to be mined exclusively; it is typically extracted in combination with other more profitable elements.
- An accident involving thorium occurred in New York City in 1956: The Sylvania Electric Products explosion, as the event became known, took place after scrap thorium combusted. The resulting fired killed one and injured nine others.
Featured Image Source: Image Copyright 2013 – Theodore W. Gray