Metal is a blanket term used in daily life, primarily because most metals with which people interact are made of a number of metallic elements through alloys. One such common element is niobium, and if you’ve ever flow on an airplane or had an MRI, this metal is to thank.
Resistant and Readily Available
Niobium is one of five materials known as refractory metals on the periodic table. This means that it is extremely resistant to both heat and water. Because of this trait, niobium alloys are commonly used in construction, manufacturing, and even healthcare applications.
With the main sources of this element being in Brazil and Canada, estimates presume there’s enough niobium on the Earth’s crust to last 500 years at current levels of use.
This metal was first discovered in 1801 after sitting in a museum collection for nearly 70 years. It was sent as part of the mineral columbite, and was first isolated by a British chemist. For years, debate over whether niobium actually existed arose from its very close similarity to tantalum.
In nature, niobium and tantalum are almost always found together.
An Industrial Backbone
Everyone has heard of steel, but without niobium, it wouldn’t be the powerhouse of construction and industry that it is today. About 80% of all niobium is used in alloys to create steel. Niobium gives this metal its heat and corrosion resistance, in addition to making it stronger.
Other instances of these properties at work are niobium’s use for creating jet engines and MRI scanners, two hugely important technologies in the modern world.
Nothing modern or exceptional could exist without the simplest, most ordinary elements; niobium makes new achievements possible by remaining a stable constant in the world.