Chemical Element: niobium

(Modern Latin: named for the goddess, Niobe, daughter of Tantalus. This element is also known as columbium; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Nb
Atomic number: 41
Year discovered: 1801

Discovered by: Charles Hachett (1765-1847), a British chemist.

  • Niobium was discovered, in 1801, by Charles Hatchett in an ore called columbite sent to England more than a century before by John Winthrop, the Younger, the first governor of Connecticut, USA.
  • The mineral was found in the British Museum.
  • Hatchett called the new element “columbium” in honor of the United States, which was sometimes known by the name “Columbia”.
  • He was not able to isolate the free element.
  • There was then some confusion concerning tantalum and niobium which was resolved by German chemist, Heinrich Rose, who named niobium, and by Marignac in 1846.
  • The name “niobium” is now preferred as the official nomenclature replacing the original name “columbium” and so the United States lost the honor.
  • The metal niobium was first prepared, in 1864, by Blomstrand, who reduced chloride by heating it in a hydrogen atmosphere.
  • The name niobium was adopted by IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) in 1950, but a few commercial producers still refer to it as “columbium”.
  • Niobium is a shiny, white, soft, and ductile metal, and takes on a bluish cast when exposed to air at room temperatures for a long time.
  • The metal starts to oxidize in air at elevated temperatures, and when processed at even moderate temperatures must be placed in a protective atmosphere.

Name in other languages:

French: niobium

German: Niob

Italian: niobio

Spanish: niobio

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.