Zyra //// Chemical Elements //// Periodic Table //// Site Index
an interesting chemical element
Beryllium is the fourth element in the periodic table. It's a solid metal, in the same chemical period as magnesium and calcium, so as you might expect it's hard, light, dry stuff. In terms of lightweight strong metal, it's like aluminium only even lighter. This would make it very useful for making aeroplanes and bicycles, but there's a problem: Beryllium metal is toxic. It's safe to hold a big chunk of it in your hand, but if you start working on it in a workshop, the swarf can be dangerous, and if the dust gets up your nose then it's bad news. The danger of poisoning through inhalation is worst.
Beryllium is used for x-ray windows as it's relatively transparent to x-rays. With an x-ray tube, you want the x-rays to be able to get out but avoid the air getting in, so a window made of beryllium is right for that.
The green gem Emerald is one of the forms of the mineral beryl Be3Al2(SiO3)6 with traces of chromium and/or vanadium.
Here's a picture of a piece of beryllium...
A friend of mine bought this online from somewhere in Russia.
It is likely to be genuine, as it's stronger and harder than a piece of aluminium foil. However the conclusive test would be to measure the density. The hope is to find the volume by measuring the thickness and multiplying by the horizontal and vertical size, and then dividing the weight by the volume. The difficult part of this is the weight, as it is very light!
The atomic properties of beryllium are interesting. Such things as the way neutrons interact with atoms of beryllium. Alpha particles going in produce neutrons coming out. There's also an effect where neutrons produce more neutrons. This "neutron multiplier" effect also changes the beryllium 9 (stable isotope) into beryllium 8.
The density of beryllium (specific gravity) is 1.85
And now the controversial experimentalism which gets a much-deserved "don't try this at home": Beryllium is reputed to taste sweet. So, as I am a mad scientist myself, I decided to see if this were true. I have previously tasted some dangerous things, including hydrofluoric acid (it's very tangy), so I considered this beryllium worth an experimental tasting. I was surprised to find that my friend's piece of beryllium foil tasted more like a piece of galvanised zinc or some other base metal.
However, I have since heard that it is the compounds of beryllium that are supposed to taste sweet.
Here are a few other pages about beryllium at a few other sites:
www.osha.gov/SLTC/beryllium/index.html - safety issues
http://periodictable.com/Elements/004/index.html - interesting stories
In fiction, beryllium appears in various stories, with it being an exotic substance whose properties are known to be interesting (and not all explored). The term "Beryllium Sphere" is especially of note as a science fiction term. It appears in The Shadow (an early superhero story) and Galaxy Quest (cleverly created Star Trek genre spoof).
Other uncommon elements which Zyra has had personal experience of include sodium, boron, and the liquid metal mercury
If you'd like to hear about the mad acid-tasting experiment, I could write that up some time as well. I can tell you that sulphuric acid tastes better than sodium hydroxide! (Yuck!)