IYPT 2019 Elements 062: Samarium: Guitar pickups and rock dating

Element 62 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is samarium. Samarium is found in guitar pick-ups and can also be used to date rocks and meteorites.

Samarium is distinguished in that it was technically the first element to be named after a person, albeit indirectly. It’s named after the mineral samarskite, from which it was isolated. Samarskite was named after Vassili Samarsky-Bykhovets, a Russian mining engineer.

An isotope of samarium, samarium-153, is found in the cancer drug Quadramet. This drug is used to treat pain when cancer spreads to the bone. It’s commonly used in lung cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer, and can reduce the amounts of other painkillers such as morphine that need to be taken by patients.

Samarium-cobalt magnets are second only to neodymium magnets in terms of strength. They find uses in some electric guitar pick-ups, headphones, and motors.

The long half-lifes of some samarium isotopes mean they can be used to date rocks and meteorites. The decay of samarium isotopes into isotopes of neodymium, and the ratios of these, can be used to determine how old material in the Earth’s crust is.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.