Element of the Issue: Tungsten

The most common use of tungsten is in light bulb filaments. Photo Credit / Rebecca Jasulevicz
The most common use of tungsten is in light bulb filaments. Photo Credit / Rebecca Jasulevicz
The most common use of tungsten is in light bulb filaments.
Photo Credit / Rebecca Jasulevicz


SC Staff Writer

In the last issue of the Stroud Courier, the “Element of the Issue” made its debut. To honor its first publication, the article discussed the importance and practicality of the Periodic Table’s first element, hydrogen.

Now for something completely different.

Tungsten has an atomic number of 74 and can be found on the Periodic Table with the chemical symbol W. While it is more commonly known as tungsten, the element is also referred to as wolfram, hence the symbol W.

Tungsten occurs in five different isotopes. Isotopes are different forms of the same element that differ in numbers of neutrons, and so have different atomic masses.

The five isotopes of tungsten average out to an atomic mass slightly less than 184 amu (atomic mass units). One amu is about the mass of one proton or neutron, particles that make up the nucleus of an atom.

Tungsten is Swedish for “heavy stone,” which may seem appropriate for this element. It has a relatively high density, over nineteen times that of water and almost twice as dense as lead.

In addition, it also has the highest melting point of any element.

These properties apply to pure tungsten, which may be slightly impractical, considering tungsten is only found in compounds on Earth and pure tungsten is never seen outside of a laboratory.

Some bacteria have implemented tungsten into their biology, making tungsten the heaviest metal used in biochemistry.

For animals, however, tungsten has a slight toxicity, as it interferes with copper metabolic pathways. Copper is an element that is vital to the health of all living things.

While pure tungsten has little use, its alloys have many uses. Over half of tungsten generated globally is used for the production of heavy metals and alloys.

The most common use of tungsten is in light bulb filaments, but tungsten alloys are also used in x-ray tubes and some military-grade projectiles.

It has also been used as a conductor.

Tungsten carbide in particular is a popular tungsten-containing compound, used to make innumerable everyday objects, such as industrial machinery, cutting tools, armor-piercing rounds, and jewelry.

The jewelry industry has implemented polished tungsten alloys for its longevity and strength.

The density of tungsten has given it a niche in aerospace engineering as a form of protection against radiation.

Portugal, a major manufacturer of tungsten during World War II, faced pressure from both the Axis and Allied powers to join their causes because of tungsten’s use in weaponry.

Unlike most metals, tungsten does not decompose from oxygen or acids.

This gives it few uses in chemistry, but makes it a reliable material.

Because it is largely inert, tungsten poses little threat to the environment. If it were to be more reactive, tungsten would have a higher chance of altering the conditions of an ecosystem.

Tungsten has more uses than many people realize. Tungsten provides reliability and strength that many other metals cannot.

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