Discovered in 1878 by Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac, ytterbium is one of the three rare earths whose name derives from Ytterby, the Swedish village where many of the rare earths elements were found in minerals in pegmatitic rocks.
Ytterbium has a bright silvery lustre, is soft, malleable and quite ductile. It is easily attacked and dissolved by mineral acids, slowly reacts with water and oxidizes in air. It is primarily recovered through a solvent extraction processes from clay minerals in China.
Applications of Ytterbium:
- Non-destructive Testing: Yb-169, an isotope of ytterbium which emits gamma rays, is used as a radiation source substitute for portable x-ray machines where electricity is not available.
- Stainless steel: Ytterbium is used to improve the grain refinement, strength and other mechanical properties of stainless steel.
- Glasses and Ceramics: Ytterbium is often used as a doping material for high power and wavelength-tunable solid-state lasers. Ytterbium also used in optical glasses, crystals and ceramics.
- Solar cells: Ytterbium is used to convert infrared energy into electricity in solar cells.