Fact Sheet 2013–3006
Gallium is a soft, silvery metallic element with an atomic number of 31 and the chemical symbol Ga. The French chemist Paul-Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered gallium in sphalerite (a zinc-sulfide mineral) in 1875 using spectroscopy. He named the element “gallia” after his native land of France (formerly Gaul; in Latin, Gallia).
The existence of gallium had been predicted in 1871 by Dmitri Mendeleev, the Russian chemist who published the first periodic table of the elements. Mendeleev noted a gap in his table and named the missing element “eka-aluminum” because he determined that its location was one place away from aluminum in the table. Mendeleev thought that the missing element (gallium) would be very much like aluminum in its chemical properties, and he was right.
Solid gallium has a low melting temperature (~29 degrees Celsius, or °C) and an unusually high boiling point (~2,204 °C). Because of these properties, the earliest uses of gallium were in high-temperature thermometers and in designing metal alloys that melt easily. The development of a gallium-based direct band-gap semiconductor in the 1960s led to what is now one of the most well-known applications for gallium-based products—the manufacture of smartphones and data-centric networks.
First posted March 26, 2013
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Foley, Nora, and Jaskula, Brian, 2013, Gallium—A smart metal: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2013–3006, 2 p., http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2013/3006.