Minerals (Category A)

Barium

Barium is a chemical element with symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in Group 2, a soft silvery metallic alkaline earth metal. Because of its high chemical reactivity barium is never found in nature as a free element. Its hydroxide was known in pre-modern history as baryta; this substance does not occur as a mineral, but can be prepared by heating barium carbonate.

The most common naturally occurring minerals of barium are barite (barium sulfate, BaSO4) and witherite (barium carbonate, BaCO3), both being insoluble in water. Barium's name originates from the alchemical derivative "baryta", which itself comes from Greek βαρύς (barys), meaning "heavy." Baric is the adjective form of barium. Barium was identified as a new element in 1774, but not reduced to a metal until 1808 with the advent of electrolysis.

Barium has only a few industrial applications. The metal has been historically used as a getter for vacuum tubes. It is a component of YBCO (high-temperature superconductors) and electroceramics, and is added to steel and cast iron to reduce the size of carbon grains within the microstructure of the metal. Barium compounds are added to fireworks to impart a green color. Barium sulfate is used as an insoluble heavy additive to oil well drilling fluid, as well as in a purer form, as X-ray radiocontrast agents for imaging the human gastrointestinal tract. Soluble barium compounds are poisonous due to release of the soluble barium ion, and therefore have been used as rodenticides.

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