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General Chemistry

Element Infographics – The Lanthanides

The Lanthanides

This graphic looks at the elements known as the lanthanides – the ones stranded at the bottom of the periodic table, along with the actinides. For a group of elements that doesn’t really get much attention in chemistry teaching until at least undergraduate level, their applications are remarkably widespread and varied. Most modern electronic devices rely on rare earth elements in some part of their construction, so it’s remarkable that the average person on the street will probably have little to no knowledge of their importance.

The concern when it comes to rare earth metals is their supply. The term ‘rare earths’ is actually something of a misnomer, since the abundance of some of the lanthanides is in fact greater than some of the transition metals. Nonetheless, the surge in the various applications of these elements has seen rare earth supplies being progressively depleted; the US, for example, is now almost 100% reliant on imports of rare earth elements. China is currently the world’s main source of these elements, but they believe that two thirds of their supplies have already been mined. This is problematic because for many applications rare earths are the best choice by some distance; in electronic devices, for instance, ceasing to use rare earth elements would mean a return to performance standards years previous.

As well as the uses noted in the graphic, the lanthanides have applications in catalysis, electronic polishing, glass polishing, night vision goggles, welding visors, and lasers.

You can download the high resolution pdf here, and view the previous infographics in this series here.

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9 replies on “Element Infographics – The Lanthanides”

Yeah, maybe I should have cut a few out and included a few more relevant diagrams/pictures 🙂 Still, wanted to include as many uses as possible, since lanthanides aren’t really mentioned at all in the secondary science curriculum. Hopefully the actinides one will be less text-heavy!

You’re right. These are completely neglected in the curriculum even though they’re interesting. Kids appreciate relevance; and knowing what these elements are used for is a huge help towards that goal.

In the Australian Curriculum, the f-block is only covered in Chemistry once: in the history of the periodic table. Unfortunately, that’s a chapter that many teachers like to skip because, shockingly, people to seem to think it’s unimportant!

I’m not sure the f block is even covered once in the English curriculum! I certainly don’t remember looking at them in any real detail until at least undergraduate level, which is a shame, because, as you say, their relevance could really help enthuse some pupils about chemistry.

Wikipedia and other chemistry websites say Holmium has the highest magnetic strength of all the elements. But nobody ever talks about it. I wonder if it’s because so many people make fun of its atomic symbol? I don’t know, but it’s sad since it’s such a cool element. ;_;

Having done a bit of reading up, you’re correct in saying that Holmium (along with several other rare earth elements) is ferromagnetic. However, it seems that the reason that Iron, Cobalt and Nickel are the three most commonly quoted as being the only naturally magnetic metals is due to their ‘Curie Points’. The Curie Point is the temperature at which a substance ceases to exhibit permanent magnetism. For all metals except Iron, Cobalt and Nickel, this temperature is below room temperature; although compounds of the rare earths can have Curie Points above room temperature, in their pure elemental forms all of them are below. Hope that explains why Holmium is so sadly neglected 🙂

These will be so helpful when I get back to teaching General Chemistry in the fall. Periodic properties are a cornerstone of modern chemistry. Love them (let me know if you need some help!). How about one on the Rare Earths – I talk about a lot to get the students used to thinking that everything has a place in the table.

As well as this series on the different groups of elements in the Periodic Table, I’ve also made a graphic on the elements in mobile phones, which touches on some of the applications of the Rare Earths. One about the remaining supplies could be interesting too!

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