What is Beryllium? | Types, Definition, Structure, Function & Facts

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What is Beryllium?

Beryllium is a very rare metal that is almost never found in its pure form. It is part of the group of alkaline earth metals that make up the second column of the periodic table.

Characteristics and Properties

In its free state, beryllium is a strong but brittle metal. It has a metallic silver gray color.

Beryllium is very light, but has one of the highest melting points of all the light metallic elements. It is also non-magnetic and has a very high thermal conductivity.

Beryllium is considered a carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer in humans. It is also poisonous or toxic to humans and should be handled with care and never tasted or inhaled.

Highlights of Beryllium:

Symbol Be
Atomic Number 4
Atomic Weight 9.0122
Classification Alkali earth metal
Phase at Room Temperature Solid
Density 1.85 grams per cm cubed
Melting Point 1287°C, 2349°F
Boiling Point 2469°C, 4476°F
Discovered by Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin in 1798

Where is Beryllium found on earth?

Beryllium is found most commonly in the minerals beryl and bertrandite. It is found in the earth’s crust and mainly in igneous (volcanic) rocks. Most of the world’s beryllium is mined in the United States and Russia, with Wyoming providing nearly two-thirds of the world’s beryllium production.

Beryllium is also found in gemstones such as emerald and aquamarine.

How is beryllium used today?

Beryllium is used in a number of applications. Many of its applications are high-tech or military. One application is in Windows for X-ray machines. Beryllium is somewhat unique in its ability to appear transparent to X-rays. Another use is as a moderator and shield in nuclear reactors.
Beryllium is also used to make metal alloys such as beryllium copper and beryllium nickel. These alloys are used to make surgical instruments, precision instruments and non-sparking instruments used near flammable gases.

How was Beryllium discovered?

In 1798, mineralogist René Hauy asked French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin to conduct an analysis of emeralds and beryl. While analyzing the substances, Louis found a new substance present in both. Initially, he called it a new ‘earth’ and it was quickly named ‘glucinum’ because of its sweet taste (note: never tasted because it was highly toxic).

Where did Beryllium get its name?

In 1828, German chemist Friedrich Wohler isolated the first pure beryllium. He didn’t like the name “glucinum” for the element so he renamed it beryllium which means “from the mineral beryl”.


There are 12 known isotopes of beryllium, but only one (beryllium-9) is stable. Beryllium-10 is created when cosmic rays strike oxygen in the atmosphere.

Interesting Facts about Beryllium

Louis Nicolas Vauquelin also discovered the element chromium.

A beryllium atom has four electrons and four protons.

It was originally discovered in an oxygen-containing compound called beryllium oxide.

Alloys with beryllium can produce a hard, strong and light metal used for spacecraft, rockets, satellites and high-speed aircraft.

Overexposure to beryllium can cause a lung disease called berylosis.