Just What Is Ytterbium Anyway?

Ytterbium Wikimedia Commons

The Last Page column (our funny page) in Smithsonian’s May issue is dedicated to people who missed the cut for Macarthur “Genius” Grants. An example:


Forging new frontiers in chemistry as he seeks to be the first man to consume every single element of the periodic table. In addition to holding the North American record for mercury poisoning, his gonzo account of a three-week ytterbium bender in the December 2001 issue of Science (“Fear and Loathing in the Lanthanides”) has become a minor classic.

This got me wondering: Just what is ytterbium anyway?

Ytterbium (chemical symbol Yb, atomic number 70) is a soft, silvery white metal found in minerals such as gadolinite, monazite and xenotime. It is a rare earth element and as the Science article indicates, a member of the lanthanides on the periodic table.

The element is one of three (three!) named after the Swedish town of Ytterby, which the guys from the Periodic Table of Videos visited in their recently updated video about ytterbium.

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