Minor Metals


Tellurium is a chemical element with symbol Te and atomic number 52. It is a brittle, mildly toxic, rare, silver-white metalloid. Tellurium is chemically related to selenium and sulfur. It is occasionally found in native form, as elemental crystals. Tellurium is far more common in the universe as a whole than it is on Earth. Its extreme rarity in the Earth's crust, comparable to that of platinum, is partly due to its high atomic number, but also due to its formation of a volatile hydride which caused the element to be lost to space as a gas during the hot nebular formation of the planet.
Tellurium was discovered in the Habsburg Empire, in 1782 by Franz-Joseph Müller von Reichenstein in a mineral containing tellurium and gold. Martin Heinrich Klaproth named the new element in 1798 after the Latin word for "earth", tellus. Gold telluride minerals are the most notable natural gold compounds. However, they are not a commercially significant source of tellurium itself, which is normally extracted as a by-product of copper and lead production.
Commercially, the primary use of tellurium is in alloys, foremost in steel and copper to improve machinability. Applications in CdTe solar panels and as a semiconductor material also consume a considerable fraction of tellurium production.
Tellurium has no biological function, although fungi can incorporate it in place of sulfur and selenium into amino acids such as tellurocysteine and telluromethionine. In humans, tellurium is partly metabolized into dimethyl telluride, (CH3)2Te, a gas with a garlic-like odor which is exhaled in the breath of victims of tellurium toxicity or exposure.


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