Dysprosium: the essentials

Dysprosium has a metallic, bright silver lustre. It is relatively stable in air at room temperature, but dissolves readily, with the evolution of hydrogen, in mineral acids. The metal is soft enough to be cut with a knife and can be machined without sparking if overheating is avoided. It is a rare earth metal found in minerals such as xenotime, monazite and bastnaesite.

Table: basic information about and classifications of dysprosium.

Dysprosium: historical information

Dysprosium was discovered by Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran at 1886 in France. Origin of name: from the Greek word "dysprositos" meaning "hard to obtain".

A lttle dysprosium oxide was identified in 1886 by Paul-Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran as an impurity in erbia (erbium oxide), but the element itself not isolated at that time. Neither the oxide nor the metal was available in relatively pure form until the 1950s following the development of ion-exchange separation and metallographic reduction techniques.

Dysprosium: physical properties

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Dysprosium: orbital properties

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Isolation: dysprosium metal is available commercially so it is not normally necessary to make it in the laboratory, which is just as well as it is difficult to isolate as the pure metal. This is largely because of the way it is found in nature. The lanthanoids are found in nature in a number of minerals. The most important are xenotime, monazite, and bastnaesite. The first two are orthophosphate minerals LnPO4 (Ln deonotes a mixture of all the lanthanoids except promethium which is vanishingly rare) and the third is a fluoride carbonate LnCO3F. Lanthanoids with even atomic numbers are more common. The most comon lanthanoids in these minerals are, in order, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, and praseodymium. Monazite also contains thorium and ytrrium which makes handling difficult since thorium and its decomposition products are radioactive.

For many purposes it is not particularly necessary to separate the metals, but if separation into individual metals is required, the process is complex. Initially, the metals are extracted as salts from the ores by extraction with sulphuric acid (H2SO4), hydrochloric acid (HCl), and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Modern purification techniques for these lanthanoid salt mixtures are ingenious and involve selective complexation techniques, solvent extractions, and ion exchange chromatography.

Pure dysprosium is available through the reduction of DyF3 with calcium metal.

2DyF3 + 3Ca → 2Dy + 3CaF2

This would work for the other calcium halides as well but the product CaF2 is easier to handle under the reaction conditions (heat to 50°C above the melting point of the element in an argon atmosphere). Excess calcium is removed from the reaction mixture under vacuum.

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dysprosium atomic number