Simple Science

Uses Of Beryllium

BerylliumPhoto by Isomerius

Beryllium is a member of the alkaline earth metals family. These metals are part of Group 2 (IIA) of the periodic table and they are radium, barium, strontium, calcium, magnesium, and, of course, beryllium, which is the lightest member. The periodic table is a chart that shows how the chemical elements are related to each other and elements in the same column of the periodic table have similar chemical properties.

In 1798, this element was discovered by Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin, a French chemist. Since the element and some of its compounds have a sweet taste, Vauquelin suggested the name glucinium, which means “sweet tasting.” However, the name beryllium was adopted in 1957. About ¾ of all the beryllium produced are beryllium-copper alloys. This alloy is made by melting and mixing 2 or more metals. Unlike these individual metals, the mixture has different properties.

Communications

This metal is used in the manufacture of telecommunications infrastructure equipment, cellular phones and computers. People around the world work more productively, keep in touch, and relay vital information during emergencies with computers and cellular phones manufactured with beryllium-containing materials. Copper beryllium housings protect the electronics on the ocean floor, which allow fiber optic cables to function properly. These barrel-like housings show little deterioration even after decades of service and resist highly corrosive sea water as well as extreme pressures. Through the air and on the ground, society stays connected thanks to beryllium-containing materials.

Electronic connectors and battery contacts in portable electronics and cell phones are made with copper beryllium alloys. The material meets stringent requirements for weight savings, corrosion resistance, durability and electrical conductivity in all extremes of temperature and weather. The high thermal conductivity and low electrical resistance of beryllium-containing materials supports the convergence and miniaturization of multiple functions, such as MP3 player, camera, and phone, into a single, lightweight, and compact device. “Spring memory” is provided by copper beryllium alloys, which ensures continuous, fatigue-free electrical connections through constant use, vibrations as well as accidental drops.

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High-performance processors denser layers of high-frequency circuits into smaller packages, which means better performance and higher processing speeds for personal computers, the internet, and routers, as well as defense systems, avionics, and radars. The exceptional insulating and thermal conductivity properties of beryllia ceramic protect these systems from the crippling effects of intense heat generation. Beryllia ceramics stay preferred insulators for such high-frequency circuits, because its thermal conductivity is up to 10 times greater than that of alumina ceramic.

Medicine

Advances in laser medicine, diagnostics and imaging equipment have been enabled by the stability and strength of this versatile metal. Beryllium’s special properties are essential to medical technologies which save and enhance lives. Beryllium is stable, strong, highly transparent to x-rays, and can handle elevated levels of heat resistance. For these reasons, in its thin foil form, beryllium has long been critical to the operations of medical and scientific x-ray equipment. Ophthalmologists are able to restore or improve eyesight for millions of people around the world thanks to medical lasers made with beryllia ceramics.

This is the only material that offers the strength, thermal conductivity and dielectric properties which are required to control and contain these high-powered gas laser bores. Copper beryllium connectors transmit precise electrical signals to monitoring devices and delicate surgical instruments used in the newest, non-invasive surgical techniques. These techniques reduce infection risk and patient trauma, while speeding the process of recovery and healing. Additionally, beryllium is also used in components of the analytical equipment used to analyze blood for certain diseases, such as HIV, offering the reliability and precision that doctors and patients demand.

Transportation

Used in weather forecasting satellites, emergency rescue equipment, chemical detection, automobile airbags and electronic braking systems, and fire suppression sprinkler systems, beryllium helps to keep us safe. Beryllium’s capabilities are used in aircraft bushings and bearings, airbags, anti-lock brakes, fire sprinkler systems, power steering and electronic control systems, air traffic control radar, undersea earthquake and tsunami detection monitors, and weather forecasting satellites. Beryllium’s strength, corrosion resistance and fatigue resistance can help to save lives as well as protect property. The non-magnetic and non-sparking properties of this metal help protect oil and gas exploration crews from risk of accidental explosions from sparks generated by tooling and equipment.

Discovery

Beryllium materials have had a from seat in extraordinary exploration of space, from heat shields that protected Mercury astronauts of NASA, to the orbital telescopes of tomorrow. From earliest days of NASA, when heat shields made of beryllium protected mercury spacecraft during re-entry, engineers, designers, and scientists continue to depend on this stiff, versatile and lightweight material to meet their most demanding challenges. This metal serves on current NASA vehicles, where it adds strength, lightens weight, and dissipates heat in window frames and door systems. Opportunity and Spirit, two mars Rover vehicles, have far exceeded original expectations. The rovers were protected by aluminum beryllium components on their landings, and the components served again to unfold their drive-off ramps.

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