Guest Videos: Beryllium–A Strategic Mineral

It’s tempting to call beryllium the “Clark Kent” of the periodic table’s group 2 elements:

bertrandite use

Rob Lavinsky,, viaWikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Beryllium is usually found in bertrandite or beryl crystals and minerals.

The square-jawed, mild-mannered crystals get the job done but would never be mistaken for one of their glamorous associates, say, emeralds or aquamarines.

As a metal, beryllium is dull gray and usually covered with an oxide (“rust,” which is a lighter shade of gray).

But when the need for its unique properties arises, watch out!

And almost all of this “super” material comes from one source–Materion, the company that produced that last video.

Nothing nefarious or supervillainous is going on; there just happens to be a single huge deposit of beryllium in the world, in Utah, and Materion owns it. Unfortunately, it’s called Spor Mountain, not the Fortress of Solitude.

But it does have an awesome origin story (the wave of supervolcanic eruptions at the end of this video segment):

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Antimony: A Critical Mineral

Look how careful these scientists are with that material!

And yet people in the past used it all the time:

  • Ancient Egyptians might have considered antimony strategically important, just as the US does today, but for different reasons. Instead of using it for batteries, flame retardants, synthetic materials, and military purposes, they made eyeliner with it.


    Nefertiti. (Arkadiy Etumyan, CC BY-SA 3.0)

  • The Arab word that Europeans first translated as “kohl” is al-kuhul, derived from kahala–to stain or paint. Medieval alchemists turned this into the Latin alcoholpowdered ore of antimony! They thought it would lead them first to something called philosophical mercury and then to the Philosopher’s Stone. “Alcohol” later came to mean any powder or liquid that remained after vaporization; the word didn’t acquire its boozy connotations until the 18th century, around the time that antimony was in use as a pigment again.


    Matthias Stom used antimony-based Naples Yellow in “The Arrest of Christ.” (Source)

It’s unclear if antimony harmed anyone back then, but it could have. While antimony’s effects on human health vary, it can cause liver, skin, respiratory, and/or cardiovascular problems.

Also, in some formulations antimony will burn (a feature that chemical experts have harnessed to provide us with green and white fireworks, as well as “glitter” effects).

Antimony is obviously a multipurpose (and sometimes sparkly) element. But why did the US government list it as a critical mineral in 2018?
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