Fact Sheet 2014–3054
Niobium and tantalum are transition metals almost always paired together in nature. These “twins” are difficult to separate because of their shared physical and chemical properties. In 1801, English chemist Charles Hatchett uncovered an unknown element in a mineral sample of columbite; John Winthrop found the sample in a Massachusetts mine and sent it to the British Museum in London in 1734. The name columbium, which Hatchet named the new element, came from the poetic name for North America—Columbia—and was used interchangeably for niobium until 1949, when the name niobium became official. Swedish scientist Anders Ekberg discovered tantalum in 1802, but it was confused with niobium, because of their twinned properties, until 1864, when it was recognized as a separate element. Niobium is a lustrous, gray, ductile metal with a high melting point, relatively low density, and superconductor properties. Tantalum is a dark blue-gray, dense, ductile, very hard, and easily fabricated metal. It is highly conductive to heat and electricity and renowned for its resistance to acidic corrosion. These special properties determine their primary uses and make niobium and tantalum indispensable.
First posted July 1, 2014
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Schulz, Klaus, and Papp, John, 2014, Niobium and tantalum—Indispensable twins: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2014–3054, 2 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/fs20143054.
ISSN 2327-6932 (online)