Element of the Issue: Cobalt


SC Staff Writer

Cobalt isn’t just a color; it’s this week’s “Element of the Issue!”

Cobalt has an atomic number of 27, the chemical symbol Co and an average atomic mass of about 59 atomic mass units.

It gets its name from the German word “kobold,” which translates to “goblin ore.” This is a group of minerals that produce strange blue pigments.

Cobalt is known for the bluish tint it adds to minerals and compounds. This pigmentation has been used since ancient times to color paint and jewelry.

Even today, cobalt is often used to color glass, ceramics, inks, and paint because of its blue pigments. As a pure metal, its color is a simple lustrous gray.

Like tungsten, last week’s “Element of the Issue,” cobalt is never found as a pure element in nature.

Cobalt comprises 0.0029 percent of the Earth’s crust, making it a mineral of medium abundance.

It can be found in minerals in most soils, plants, and animals.  Recently, its pure form has been found in meteorites.

The majority of the cobalt used in manufacturing is created as a byproduct of copper and nickel mining. The largest source of all of these metals is a region of Africa known as the “Copper Belt.”

Though it may be difficult to find, cobalt’s pure form is often viewed as its most useful form.

It is one of the three magnetic elements—the others being iron and nickel—and it is generally added to other metals when attempting to create high-strength, magnetic alloys.

Cobalt-60, an isotope of natural cobalt, is used as a radioactive tracer to explore mechanisms of chemical reactions. The isotope is also used as a source of gamma rays.

Cobalt is found in some coenzymes, such as Vitamin B12. Coenzymes are non-protein compounds that are necessary for the functioning of enzymes, which are essential for life.

More basic forms of life, such as bacteria and algae, use cobalt more directly as an active nutrient.

The most common commercial use of cobalt is in lithium ion batteries. Nickel metal hydride batteries also utilize cobalt, but are not as widely used.

While its uses may seem few and far between, cobalt is essential for all life. Next time you shop for blue jewelry for your significant other, such as for Valentine’s Day, think about whether its blue coloring comes from this week’s “Element of the Issue.”

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