Chemical Element: erbium

(Modern Latin: chemical element; named for Ytterby, a village in Sweden; where gadolite was found; rare earth)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Er
Atomic number: 68
Year discovered: 1843

Discovered by: Carl Gustav Mosander (1797-1858), a Swedish scientist.

    In 1842, Gustav Mosander separated yttria, found in the mineral gadolinite, into three fractions which he called yttria, erbia, and terbia.
  • The names erbia and terbia became confused in this early period.
  • After 1860, Mosander’s terbia was known as erbia, and after 1877, the earlier known erbia became terbia.
  • The erbia of this period was later shown to consist of five oxides, now known as erbia, scandia, holmia, thulia and ytterbia.
  • Klemm and Bommer first produced reasonably pure erbium metal in 1934 by reducing anhydrous chloride with potassium vapor.
  • “A surge of innovation is carrying fiber-optic communications forward on both land and sea.

    For example, the latest fiber-optic submarine cables have amplifiers every 30 miles or so. In them, the strand of coiled-up glass fiber contains a small percentage of the element erbium. An additional, external laser — powered with electricity — bathes the fiber. Excited erbium atoms release their energy in tune with the oncoming signal sending it on its way stronger than before. Such optical amplifiers went into service in the early 1990s, replacing electronic amplifiers that were bottlenecks against faster transmission rates.”

—“Spaghetti under the sea” by Charles W. Petit
in U.S. News & World Report, August 30, 1999; page 58.

Name in other languages:

French: erbium

German: Erbium

Italian: erbio

Spanish: erbio

Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.

A special unit about words that include chemo-, chem- may be seen here.