6 Uses of Gadolinium in Everyday Life – Element – Properties

Gadolinium is the chemical element having the chemical symbol of Gd and atomic number of 64. It’s one of the rarest chemical element in nature which is included in the lanthanide group. Gadolinium is the chemical element which has position at Row 6 in periodic table of element. The elements on Row 6 are categorized as the rare earth elements group. Some of them are not really rare, but they’re hard to separate, so that it will be difficult for scientist to get many information from these elements. Gadolinium actually has not had the big scale application, but it is still used in various applications. This article will cover gadolinium uses in everyday life and its special physical and chemical properties.

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Gadolinium Discovery

Gadolinium was firstly discovered by Jean Charles de Marignac in 1880. At that time, he detected the oxide form of gadolinium using spectroscopy. The name of gadolinium was derived from ‘gadolinite’ which was the mineral name where the gadolinium was found. As mentioned before, gadolinium is rare in the nature. We can find this element in some minerals like gadolinite, bastnasite, monazite, samarskite and xenotime. The amount of gadolinium in earth surface is approximately 4.5 to 6.5 parts per million.

This makes gadolinium as one of the rarest chemical element in the earth. In the rare chemical element rank, gadolinium is located above the bromine and uranium element, but below the lead and boron element. For the commercial use, gadolinium is often isolated by ion exchange and solvent extraction process.

The production of gadolinium can also be achieved from the reduction process of anhydrous gadolinium fluoride with calcium metal. Due to this condition, gadolinium uses in everyday life has not been as much as other metallic chemical elements. However, you can still see some great application of gadolinium element on the next section

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Indeed, here uses of gadolinium in everyday life:

1. Nuclear Power Plant

Gadolinium plays an important part in the nuclear industries. Gadolinium element can be used for controlling the rod in the nuclear power plants. In the nuclear power plant, the energy made from the nuclear fission process is utilized to produce electrical power. Nuclear fission itself is the nuclear process which the large atoms, commonly uranium or plutonium element, break apart and then discharge certain amount of energy. There will be the residual atoms which are produced from this fission reaction.

These atoms are the fission products which have smaller form and radioactive properties. This fission reaction also produces neutrons. In the operation cycle of nuclear power plant, the number of neutrons produced from fission should be controlled. The controlling system will ensure the power plant work properly without any damage risk. In this nuclear power plant, they use the special rod made from gadolinium element to control neutrons production. This rod operates by being raised out and lowered into the nuclear reactor. This rod will control the number of neutrons which will remain in the fission reaction.

Aside from its function as controlling rod, gadolinium can also be used as the shut-down measure in nuclear reactors. They use gadolinium as the secondary and emergency shut down measure system in certain nuclear reactors, especially in the CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) nuclear reactor type. Another gadolinium use in nuclear industries is for burnable poison in the nuclear marine propulsion system.

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2. Medical Applications

Gadolinium actually has some uses in medical fields like detecting disease and being chemical agent in medical tools. This chemical element can be used to pinpoint tumors in the inner ear. This method is usually conducted in the neutron therapy. This gadolinium element will be injected to human blood stream, then it will travel through any tumors which possibly exist in the inner ear. In the X-ray, the tumors will appear darker with the gadolinium detection approach. Gadolinium is able to do so since it has high neutron cross section.

Gadolinium is also used in medical imaging system like X-ray and MRI. In X-ray, you can see that the phosphor layer of detection contains of gadolinium element. Gadolinium, in this case Terbium-doped gadolinium oxysulfide with formula Gd2O2S: Tb, plays important role in converting the X-ray which is discharged from source to light. Gadolinium is able to emit green light up to 540 nano meter with the presence of Tb3+ ion. This material is very useful to improve the quality of image in medical detection tools. Gadolinium oxyorthosilicate (Gd2SiO5) is used as scintillator to detect neutrons in positron emission tomography, one of the medical imaging method.

In MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) application, gadolinium is used as intravenous radiocontrast agent due to its magnetic characteristic. Gadolinium acts as paramagnetic element in room temperature with ferromagnetic curie point of 20 °C. Paramagnetic element like gadolinium is very useful in boosting the rates of nuclear relaxation which is important in the MRI application. As intravenous radiocontrast agent, gadolinium has the ability to enhance the quality of images produced in MRI or MRA (Magnetic Resonance Angiography). After injected to the body, gadolinium agent will accumulate in the abnormal tissue in human brain and body. This will give better image contrast between the normal and abnormal tissue. So, it will be easier for us to locate the abnormal growth in human body.

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More Gadolinium Uses

Gadolinium also have other various applications in different fields and industry. Here’s the list of gadolinium uses in everyday life in other fields:

  1. For microwave applications

Another common gadolinium uses in every life is as material to create gadolinium yttrium garnet (Gd:Y3Al5O12). This is the gadolinium alloy which has application in microwave equipment. This gadolinium alloy is made by mixing and melting two or more metal elements. The product of this mixture will have the different properties from its previous individual metal form. Gadolinium yttrium garnet is used in microwave applications such as microwave ovens. It also has use in fabrication of many optical component. This alloy is also good substrate material for magneto optical film.

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2. For television tubes

Gadolinium is also useful as green phosphors in the color television tube. Phosphor itself is the material which will shine if struck with electrons. The color emitted by the phosphors will depend on the element which form up the phosphors.

3. For oxidation process

Another gadolinium uses in everyday life is as alloy from iron and chromium. This alloy will have better resistance to the higher temperature and oxidation process. As mentioned before, gadolinium has the unique metallurgic properties which its small concentration can increase the resistance of certain alloy. From the study, we know that even one percent of gadolinium can enhance the performance and resistance of iron, chromium and certain alloys in higher temperature and oxidation process.

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4. For magnetic refrigeration

Due to its special properties, gadolinium has the promising use in the magnetic refrigeration application. Gadolinium has the strong magnetocaloric effect in the room temperature. This means that the temperature of this element will increase as it goes through magnetic field area and will decrease as it leaves that magnetic field area. It’s known that gadolinium alloy with silicon and germanium element, Gd5(SixGe1−x)4, has the high Curie temperature and great magnetocaloric effect level.

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The pure gadolinium itself shows the awesome level of magnetocaloric effect in its Curie temperature, which is 20 °C. Research are currently conducted to get more data regarding gadolinium use for magnetic refrigeration application, especially in the room temperature magnetic refrigeration.

Gadolinium Properties

Physically, gadolinium is shiny and soft metallic with color of silvery white. It’s malleable and ductile. The occurrence of gadolinium in nature is in oxidized form only. When it’s separated, usually it has impurities of other rare earth elements. Gadolinium has melting point of 1,312°C (2,394°F) and a boiling level of about 3,000°C (5,400°F). It has the density of 7.87 grams per cubic centimeter.

Gadolinium has the strong magnetic properties. There few chemical elements in earth having the high magnetic properties like gadolinium. Gadolinium also has very high neutron absorbing capability making it as the top chemical element with neutron absorbing ability among all chemical elements. This means that gadolinium has the great ability to stop neutron rather than other elements. Due to this characteristic, gadolinium is used in the nuclear power plant, MRI, X-ray and other application which utilize neutron particles.

Chemically, gadolinium is not really reactive element. This element will dissolve in acid but react slower in the cold water. Gadolinium reacts with oxygen in the high temperature as well. Differ from other rare earth elements in Row 6, gadolinium has more stability in the dry air. However, this metallic element will tarnish fast in moist air which then creates gadolinium (III) oxide (Gd2O3). The chemical reaction of gadolinium with oxygen is as follow:

4 Gd + 3 O2 → 2 Gd2O3

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