Germanium is solid, shiny chemical element with the symbol Ge. This element has atomic number of 32 and atomic weight of 72.60. Germanium is grouped as the metalloid element which means that this carbon group element possesses both metallic and non-metallic chemical element properties. Pure germanium is the semiconductor type element making it largely used in the semiconductor based products.
The uses of germanium in everyday life can be seen in various industries mainly in the optical applications and semiconductor electronics industries. You can find the uses of germanium in fiber optic system, solar cell, LED, polymerization catalyst, infrared optics and some more. This article will explain the uses of germanium in everyday life including its discovery, occurrence in nature and properties.
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Discovery of Germanium
Just like Francium element, the occurrence of germanium has been previously predicted by Dmitri Mendellev. In 1869, while arranging the periodic table of elements, he assumed that there will be new element with the atomic number of 32 and atomic weight of 70 to fill the gap between the elements in his periodic table. He found out that there was the gap between the silicon and tin element in that periodic table. At that time, he named this element as eka-silicon.
In 1886, German chemist named Clemens A. Winkler successfully discovered germanium in the mineral sample from the silver mine. He then analyzed that his mineral sample, known as argyrodite, consisted of 73-75 % silver, 17-18 % sulfur, 0.2% mercury and 6-7% new element. This new element belongs to the eka-silicon element which then he called as germanium. The germanium name itself comes from the Latin language ‘Germania’ which means Germany, the country where Winkler comes from. In nature, you can find germanium in few minerals like argyrodite, briartite, germanite and renierite.
There’s only 1.6 ppm of germanium available in the Earth’s crust. Today, common germanium element is obtained from the metal refining products and also from certain coal ashes. Germanium has 24 known isotopes with mass numbers range from 58 to 85. The common occurrence of germanium in nature is the mix of 5 isotopes. The most abundant isotope is 74Ge with 35.9% abundance from overall germanium occurrence in nature.
Indeed, here are uses of germanium in everyday life for various applications:
1. Optical Applications
Today germanium has been used extensively in the optical applications like in optical fibers, camera lens and microscopy. Germanium is preferable in optics applications due to its high refraction index and low optical dispersion properties. In optical fibers application, germanium is currently replacing titania element as the dopant for silica fiber for the core part of the optical fiber. Germanium can remove the heat which can possibly make the fibers fragile. In United States, the use of germanium in fiber optical industries has reached 60% from the overall germanium uses annually. Germanium silica known as GeSbTe is also used for other optical applications like rewritable DVD material.
Another common use of germanium in optical application is as lenses for wide angle camera. This is because germanium will appear transparent in the infrared wavelength. Germanium is also really easy to cut and polish to be produced as lenses or windows. You can see the popular uses of germanium in everyday life in camera lenses like the thermal imaging camera which works in the 8 to 14-micron range.
This kind of camera is usually used for passive thermal imaging and hot sport detection in military, fire fighting applications and mobile night vision applications. Due to its properties, germanium can also be used in the infrared spectroscope applications and other application requiring the very high sensitive infrared detection. Germanium has the high index of refraction which is 4.0 making it should be coated with anti-reflection material.
2. Electronic Applications
Germanium is one of the very first and popular semiconductor material. Previously, the fist development of semiconductor electronics utilized germanium as the major material. But, today most of semiconductor electronics use high purity silicon as the major material to produce transistors, diodes and other electronic devices. Despite to this fact, germanium is still used as semiconductor for the high speed and high performance integrated circuit applications.
The mix between germanium and silicon called SiGe has the faster speed compared to the pure silicone material. SiGe integrated circuits can be made with the low cost and still show high speed performance. Germanium is also still in use for certain transistor applications like special music effects. Some musicians still use geranium transistors in effect pedals to produce the unique tone called fuzz tone. This tone was popular in the early rock and roll era with its special and distinct tone characteristic.
Next common use of germanium in electronics industries is as solar panels. Germanium is the great material choice as the wafers substrate multi junction photo voltaic cells. This material can show the high efficiency and very good to be performed in the space application. Germanium has the similar lattice constant to gallium arsenide making it possible for using this element to make gallium arsenide solar cells.
Some space explorations like Mars Exploration Rovers and some satellites has been using triple junction gallium arsenide on the germanium cells. Other great uses of germanium in everyday life, especially in electronics applications can be seen in the florescent lamps and solid state LED. Some big fluorescent tubes consist of coating in the inside which gives them the ability to glow. One of the popular element for this coating is germanium. Germanium is the good choice as phosphors in fluorescent bulbs.
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More Germanium Uses
Apart from its mass uses in optical and electronics applications, germanium also has many other uses in various fields like polymerization catalyst, metallurgy, chemistry and some other. Following is the list of some notable uses of germanium in everyday life:
3. As Catalyst for Polymerization
Germanium is used as the polymerization catalyst in the manufacturing of special plastic type called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This kind method is applied in the factory producing PET bottles in Japan. However, in United State, Germanium is not the common material for the polymerization catalyst.
4. In Gas Chromatography
Germanium is also used in the gas chromatography applications to replace Silica. Germanium dioxide (GeO2) has many similar properties with silica (SiO2) and germanium dioxide making it perfect to replace silica stationary phase in gas chromatography columns.
5. In metal alloys
The use of germanium in the high-priced metal alloys is constantly growing. One of the popular use of germanium as metal alloy is in sterling silver alloys. In this product, germanium is able to decrease fire scale, improve the tarnish resistance and enhance the precipitation hardening. Argenium is the example of this silver alloy containing about 1.2% germanium element.
6. Semiconductor detectors and X-ray
Germanium is also popularly used as the semiconductor detector in certain application like airport security detection. In this kind of detector, single high-purity is used for identifying the radiation sources. This crystal pure germanium is also used as detectors in gamma spectroscopy applications. This is very useful in the research for the dark matter.
Aside for its uses in detector application, germanium is also beneficial in X-ray spectrometers. This material has ability to detect phosphorus, chlorine and sulfur elements. Germanium also has application as monochromators for beam lines. You can see this germanium use in synchrotron x-ray diffraction and other high energy X-ray applications. Germanium is chosen over the silicon due to its reflective properties.
7. Spintronics applications
Germanium is currently becoming one of the most important new material for spintronic and other spin based quantum computing applications. Previously, some researches showed that spin transport and donor electron spins in germanium element indicated the long coherence times condition in the room temperature. This makes germanium as the great alternative for spintronic applications.
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Germanium has the form of crystal with shiny and hard structure. It’s the semi metallic element with gray white color. Germanium is also a semiconductor element which means that this element has mixed properties of conductor (able to transmit electricity) and insulator (unable to transmit electricity). Germanium and its oxide are transparent to the presence of infrared radiation. It has the special properties where it can expand while it freezes just like water properties.
Actually, there are also other chemical elements having this special property like silicon, bismuth, gallium and antimony. Germanium has the melting point of 1211.40 K (938.25°C) and boiling point of 3106 K (2833°C). It has the density of 5.323 grams per cubic centimeter. Chemically, germanium element will oxide slowly at high temperature (250 °C) to GeO2. Germanium is insoluble in the acids and alkalis while it slowly dissolves in the hot sulfuric and nitric acids. In this mix, germanium will react with melted alkalis to form germinates. The common presence of germanium is in its oxidation state +4 even though we also notice some of its +2 oxidation state compounds.
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