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What is Lithium, where is it found and why is it important?

The chemical symbol for Lithium

Lithium is a chemical element with the symbol Li.

A soft, silvery-white alkali metal, it is actually the lightest-known metal on Earth, as well as being the lightest-known solid element.

It is very similar to sodium, being that it is from the same group of alkali metals, can be easily cut with a knife and will also oxidise to a dull grey colour when cut.

Also, like sodium, lithium must also be stored in oil to avoid it reacting with water violently and is not found in its metallic state in naturally occurring deposits.

Where is lithium found?

Chile is believed to have the largest known lithium reserves in the world with eight million tonnes, some five or six tonnes more than Australia and Argentina, and seven more than China.

You can also final smaller quantities of the valuable raw material in Portugal.

What has lithium historically been used for?

Over the last century, lithium has played an important role in humanity's interactions with radiation and nuclear research.

It was the very first transmuted element from lithium to helium in 1932, which was the first man-made nuclear reaction.

In early-stage nuclear weapons, lithium deuteride served as a fusion fuel for staged thermonuclear weapons.

What is lithium used for today?

With its strong red-coloured flame, lithium is commonly added to flares and fireworks as it gives off such a bright spark.

Another interesting use of lithium is the formation of large Lithium Flouride crystals by applying a high amount of force to them.

What makes these crystals unique is that they are one of the lowest refractive index materials known to man, and therefore have found their way into use in optics for IR spectrometer and UV spectrometry.

What made this application so popular is that they can be made with the use of a hydraulic press in the laboratory.

When used in combination with manganese dioxide or thionyl chloride and many other molecules in a cell, a lithium battery is formed.

These batteries are very long life and stable and are used in applications from standard AAA batteries to pacemakers, where changing a battery becomes invasive to the user of the pacemaker.

How is lithium used in medicine?

Lithium carbonate (Li2CaO3) is a commonly used antidepressant to treat Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia and major depressive disorder.

However, due to there being a limit to the body's ability to cope with high concentrations, the blood levels of lithium must be monitored.

This is commonly done by using a flame photometer and blood serum.

How are concentration levels of lithium measured?

Here at BWB Technologies, we have now produced a specialised instrument specifically to determine concentrations of lithium.

It is one of the most advanced flame photometers, with the sole purpose of the analysis of a single element in mind using multiple detection channels for highly stable readings of concentration.

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