Is Tantalum Magnetic? (Hint: Paramagnetic)

is-tantalum-magnetic

Did you know that “tantalum” originated from the ancient Greek gods’ anger? Tantalus (Niobe’s father) killed his son and offered him to the gods as a feast. The gods punished him by forcing him to stand knee-deep in a watery area with beautiful fruit trees. Compared with the tantalum’s non-reactive nature, the water would recede when he attempted to scoop it, and the fruit trees would motion out of his grip. However, Tantalum has other properties as well. Is tantalum magnetic? Our first question

The first subject we address in this article is whether tantalum is magnetic or nonmagnetic. After that, we explain where tantalum is found and whether it is a metal, flammable, conductive, or radioactive. Finally, we highlight tantalum’s properties and various uses. 

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Is Tantalum Magnetic or Non-magnetic?

Tantalum is paramagnetic. It has three unpaired electrons found in the 5d orbital. Therefore, tantalum will have a weak attraction to external magnetic fields. Since paramagnetic materials lack domains, a magnetic field is created by the unpaired electrons’ magic moments. When the external field is removed, tantalum loses its magnetic properties. 

Unpaired electrons do not form a pair and are found alone in an atom’s orbital. In tantalum, the spin of the unpaired electrons produces a permanent dipole moment. Tantalum will transition from an area of a weak magnetic field to a strong magnetic field if it is placed in a non-uniform magnetic field. 

It’s important to note that Curie’s law of magnetism states that the magnetization in the paramagnetic material is inversely proportional to the temperature. Hence, in the case of tantalum, its magnetization decreases as the temperature increases. 

The Organic Chemistry Tutor in his YouTube channel shows us how to calculate the electron configuration of Paramagnetic vs Diamagnetic – Paired vs Unpaired Electrons – Electron Configuration

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Where is Tantalum Found?

Tantalum is found naturally as tantalite ore. Tantalum ore is referred to as tantalite when tantalum is the dominant element. However, the ore is known as niobite or columbite if the niobium content is more than tantalum.  You can also find traces of tantalum in the minerals euxenite, samarskite, and fergusonite. Tantalum is also a by-product of tin smelting. 

Tantalum ores are found in Canada, Australia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Thailand, Portugal, Malaysia, and Egypt.

Tantalum is extracted from other minerals using various techniques by its producers. We mention the three most widely used extraction methods.

  • Reducing potassium by combining sodium and fluorotantalate. 
  • Reacting tantalum oxide with tantalum carbide. 
  • Electrolysing molten potassium fluorotantalate. 

Is Tantalum a Metal?

Tantalum is a rare metal that is heavy and extremely hard. It is a member of refractory metals with high wear and tear resistance. Tantalum also belongs to the same family as transition metals and is solid at room temperature in its pure state. Tantalum possesses similar chemical resistance even though it is not a precious metal. 

The other refractory metals include rhenium, tungsten, molybdenum, and niobium. We list some of the properties that these metals have in common below. 

  • In incredibly high temperatures, their strength is greater than other metals. 
  • All metals have melting points higher than 3632°F (2000°C), which they all have. 
  • Refractory metals have a moderate level of corrosion resistance in their pure state.  
  • Their creep resistance is higher than 1500°C (2700°F). 

Is Tantalum Flammable?

Tantalum is not considered flammable when stored normally. It is exceedingly unlikely to easily ignite due to its high melting point and low heat conductivity. However, tantalum becomes highly combustible in the presence of oxygen at temperatures up to 752°F (400°C). Tantalum does catch fire in high temperatures, even if it doesn’t ignite quickly. 

No additional safety measures are required when handling tantalum goods because it is non-flammable. However, you must use caution when handling it in a hot environment. 

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When used in an industrial setting, dry tantalum powder or granules can spontaneously catch fire when exposed to smoke, air, sparks, or an open flame. If combustion begins in an enclosed area, detonation results. You should use sand to put out tantalum fires if this occurs. Don’t use carbon dioxide, foam, or water extinguishers. 

Is Tantalum Conductive?

Tantalum is a highly effective heat and electrical conductor. Due to weak d-orbital shielding, it has three unbound electrons in the outer energy level of its atom. As they move freely inside tantalum, these movable free electrons carry electrical charge and thermal energy. Free electrons begin to move when an electric current provides a force allowing electricity to pass through. 

Tantalum does not have as good an electrical conductivity as other conductors, particularly copper and aluminum. Tantalum has a higher resistivity and a lower electrical conductivity, which increases the resistance to the flow of electrical current. High resistance can cause heat production and power loss. 

Tantalum has several uses in the electronic sector despite having a lower electrical conductivity than copper and aluminum. It can conduct electricity with little interference or power loss. 

Is Tantalum Radioactive?

There are two naturally occurring isotopes of tantalum. Ta-180 is stable and has a half-life of more than ten years, while Ta-181 is radioactive. By being radioactive, isotope Ta-181 breaks apart and gives off some form of radiation. Tantalum-181, which accounts for less than 0.01% of all naturally occurring tantalum, has a half-life of over one trillion years. There are around 35 radioactive isotopes of artificial tantalum. 

Tantalum has isotopes that are either observationally stable or radioactive. That suggests that although no actual decay has been noted, they are believed to be stable. Tantalum, however, has been proposed as a nuclear weapon salting material. Ta-181 is changed into Ta-182, which has a half-life of 114.43 days when it comes into contact with a high-energy neutron flux from an exploding nuclear weapon. 

Dr. Paulien Moyaert, in her Youtube channel, explains What is radioactivity and half-life? | Nuclear Physics | Visual Explanation

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An isotope is an element in two or more different forms. The mass number of the isotopes differentiates them from one another. The mass number appears to the right of the element’s name. The mass number is the total of neutrons and protons present in an atom’s nucleus. 

Properties of Tantalum

Tantalum, formerly known as tantalium, is a precious metal with a brilliant sheen. It has an atomic number of 73 and the chemical symbol Ta. Tantalum belongs to group 5 of the periodic table’s period 6, placed between hafnium and tungsten. In addition, it is regarded as a transition metal.  

It has diverse physical and chemical properties.

Physical Properties

  • Highly non-magnetic. 
  • Biocompatible. 
  • A blue-gray, shiny metal. 
  • Extremely malleable, making it suitable for bending, stamping, and pressing. 
  • Easy fabrication. 
  • Its crystal structure is body-centered cubic. 
  • Tantalum is also a good conductor of heat and electricity. 

Chemical Properties 

  • Extremely resistant to corrosion caused by air, water, and acids. Tantalum forms a thin yet dense protective coating when exposed to the atmosphere. 
  • It has a boiling point of 9856.4 °F (5458°C) and a melting point of 5462.6 °F(3017 °C ). 
  • At temperatures under 302 °F (159 °C), tantalum is stable and resistant to chemical degradation. 

Uses of Tantalum

Enders Ekeberg in Sweden discovered tantalum in 1802; however, Jöns Berzelius was the first to isolate it. It was initially thought to be the same metal as niobium until it was later shown to be different. 

Tantalum is ideal for applications that need heat, chemical, and corrosion resistance. It has various functions due to its various forms, as highlighted in the table below. 

Tantalum FormUses
Sheet/Plate-High melting point makes it appropriate for high-temperature applications.
-Uses include linings for columns, tanks, vacuum furnace parts, containers, and heat exchangers. 
-Thin sheets are suitable for anti-corrosion cladding, repairs, and reinforcement.
Powder-Due to its higher capacitance, which enables it to hold more charge per gram than other materials, it can be used to make electrical circuits, capacitors, and resistors.
-Portable phones, personal computers, pagers, and car electronics all use capacitors.
-Makes it possible to develop electrical components and gadgets that are even smaller.
-Tantalum pentoxide makes high refractive index glass for camera lenses.
Strips/foils-Liners in vacuum furnaces and heat application.
-Thin gauge tantalum strips can manufacture cups, crucibles, and other inert laboratory equipment for experiments involving magnetic fields or insensitive magnetic sensors.
Tube-Due to tantalum’s increased corrosion resistance, it is widely applied in the chemical, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical industries.
-Columns, pipes, and stacks are standard tantalum tube products.
– Combines with other metals to form superalloys for nuclear reactors, missile parts, chemical processing machinery, and jet engine parts.
Rod/wire-Tantalum is biocompatible, which means it is not irritated by bodily fluids.
-Makes tantalum appealing for use in medical equipment and implants for prosthetic implants.  Tantalum is also non-magnetic, thus, patients undergoing MRI treatments can cope with the implants and devices.
-Applied to heating components for vacuum furnaces, heat bulbs, chemical processing machinery, and chlorinator springs.
-Tantalum carbide is used in the making of metalworking tools.

Conclusion

Tantalum is a paramagnetic transition metal. It is a tantalite or columbite ore, mainly found in Brazil, Australia, and Canada. Tantalum’s high melting point prevents it from being flammable. 

Tantalum’s three free electrons are thermal and charge carriers, making it a good conductor of heat and electricity. Both a naturally occurring radioactive and stable isotope are present. Tantalum, however, has 35 artificial radioactive isotopes. 

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