Chemical Element: magnesium

(Modern Latin: chemical element; from Latin, Magnesia, a district in Asia Minor; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Mg
Atomic number: 12
Year discovered: 1755 and 1808

Discovered by: Joseph Black (1728-1799), a Scottish chemist, in 1755; and Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), an English chemist.

  • In 1618, a farmer at Epsom, England, attempted to get his cows to drink water drawn from a well.
  • This they refused to drink because of the water’s bitter taste.
  • However the farmer noticed that the water seemed to heal scratches and rashes.
  • The fame of Epsom salts spread as a result.
  • Eventually these salts were recognized to be magnesium sulphate.
  • Joseph Black recognized magnesium as an element, in 1755, when he showed that the two substances, oxide and magnesia, were entirely different and not lime as was generally thought.
  • It was isolated by Sir Humphry Davy in 1808 who electrolyzed a mixture of magnesia and mercuric oxide.
  • Davy’s first suggestion for a name was magnium but the name magnesium is now used.
  • Magnesium is the eighth most abundant element in the earth’s crust although not found in it’s elemental form.
  • Magnesium is a grayish-white, fairly tough metal.
  • It tarnishes slightly in air, and finely divided magnesium readily ignites upon heating in air and burns with a dazzling white flame.
  • Normally magnesium is coated with a layer of oxide, that protects magnesium from air and water.
  • Magnesium is an important element for plant and animal life.
  • Michael Faraday, in 1833, was the first to succeed in producing metallic magnesium by electrolysis of molten magnesium chloride, using a voltaic cell.
  • Robert Bunsen achieved the same result, in 1852, his electrolytic cell corresponding in construction to the principle of the modern cell.
  • Magnesium was formerly associated in the minds of many people almost exclusively with pyrotechnics (fire works), and for many years the chief production was used for this purpose, as well as for flash ribbon and flash powder in photography and, in wartime, for incendiary bombs.
  • The increasing emphasis upon weight reduction, both in industrial applications and in consumer goods, gave magnesium an importance far beyond those earlier uses.

Name in other languages:

French: magnésium

German: Magnesium

Italian: magnesio

Spanish: magnesio

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.