Germanium: the essentials

Germanium is a gray-white semi-metal, and in its pure state is crystalline and brittle, retaining its lustre in air at room temperature. It is a very important semiconductor material. Zone-refining techniques have led to production of crystalline germanium for semiconductor use with an impurity of only one part in 10-10.

Certain germanium compounds have a low mammalian toxicity, but a clear activity against certain bacteria, which makes them of interest as chemotherapeutic agents.

Table: basic information about and classifications of germanium.

Germanium: historical information

Germanium was discovered by Clemens Winkler at 1886 in Germany. Origin of name: from the Latin word "Germania" meaning "Germany".

Germanium was an element whose existence was predicted by Mendeleev in 1871. He predicted that the then unknown element germanium should resemble silicon in its properties. He suggested therefore the name ekasilicon (symbol Es). His predictions for the properties of germanium are remarkably close to the reality. Germanium was discovered in a mineral called argyrodite by Clemens Alexander Winkler in 1886.

Germanium: physical properties

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Germanium: orbital properties

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Isolation: there is normally no need to make germanium in the laboratory as it is readily available commercially. Germanium is available through the treatment of germanium dioxide, GeO2, with carbon or hydrogen. The extraction of germanium from flue dust is complex because of the difficulty in separating it from zinc, which is also present.

GeO2 + 2C → Ge + 2CO

GeO2 + 2H2 → Ge + 2H2O

Very pure germanium can be made by the reaction of GeCl4 with hydrogen.

GeCl4 + 2H2 → Ge + 4HCl

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germanium atomic number