Chemical Element: tantalum

(Modern Latin: named for the mythical king Tantalus [who in the Greek myths was tortured by being placed in water up to his chin, which he was never able to drink, whence the word “tantalize”]; because of the element’s insolubility or “to illustrate the tantalizing work he had until he succeeded in isolating this element”; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Ta
Atomic number: 73
Year discovered: 1802

Discovered by: Anders Gustav Ekeberg (1767-1813), Swedish chemist.

  • Niobium was discovered, in 1802, by Anders Gustaf Ekenberg (1767-1813), but many chemists thought niobium and tantalum were identical elements until Rose, in 1844, and Marignac, in 1866, indicated and showed that niobic and tantalic acids were not the same.
  • In the previous year, Charles Hachett (1765-1847), a British chemist, also had discovered a new element that he named columbium.
  • Because of the similarity of the compounds of the two elements, they were regarded as being the same until, in 1844, Heinrich Rose, a German chemist, discovered both tantalum and a new element that he named niobium (for Niobe, daughter of Tantalus) in the mineral columbite.
  • Later Rose realized that niobium and colombium were the same element.
  • In 1866, niobium and tantlum compounds were actually separated by Swiss chemist J. C. G. de Marignac, thus permitting studies of the compounds of each element.
  • Although some impure tantalum was produced by several early investigators, it was not until 1903 that the first ductile tantalum was produced by W. von Bolton in Germany.
  • This ductile tantalum was used for incandescent lamp filaments until tungsten began to replace it in 1909.
  • The first production of tantalum in the United States started in 1922.
  • About this time C. W. Balke discovered that intentionally oxidized tantalum made an excellent rectifier of alternating current and its use in radio receiving sets and capacitors was established.
  • Since then the use of tantalum in the electronics and chemical industries has grown steadily.
  • The most important uses for tantalum are in electrolytic capacitors and corrosion-resistant chemical equipment.

Name in other languages:

French: tantale

German: Tantal

Italian: tantalio

Spanish: tántalo

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.