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Metal Encyclopedia: Seventeen Rare Earth Elements Introduction

rare earth element

Rare Earth is a general term for 17 elements of lanthanides as well as scandium and yttrium in the chemical periodic table. Scandium and yttrium are included in rare earth element because they are often symbiotic with lanthanide elements in mineral deposits, thus have similar chemical properties.

Rare earth materials are important for many aspects, including electronics, internet, communication, health care and so on. Today, I would like to introduce these seventeen elements in alphabetical order for you.

rare earth element
rare earth element

Cerium (Ce)


Cerium is the most abundant rare earth elements. First discovered in 1803 by Jöns Jakob Berzelius and Wilhelm Hisinger, cerium is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres. It is a silvery gray active metal, whose powder is easily oxidized in the air and soluble in acid. Cerium is considered the most reactive element of all the rare earth metals except for europium. Cerium has been widely used in the automotive industry as a catalyst to reduce emission, and in glass industry as glass polishing materials. Cerium sputtering target is an important material in optical coating.

Read more: Amazing Cerium rare earth element

Dysprosium (Dy)

DysprosiumDysprosium is isolated from its oxide by French chemist Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran after more than 30 attempts. Thus he named this element “Dysprosium” from the Greek dysprositos (δυσπρόσιτος), meaning “hard to get”. It is a soft, silver metal with one of the highest magnetic strengths. Due to its special property, dysprosium is often added to permanent rare earth magnets to improve their efficiency at higher temperatures. It is also used in lasers and commercial lighting to create electronics which require certain magnetic properties.

Read more: Rare Earth Element Dysprosium – An Overview

Erbium (Er)

ErbiumErbium is a silvery-white solid metal which was discovered by Carl Gustaf Mosander in 1843. It is a significant rare earth element in the nuclear area. You can find Erbium in neutron-absorbing control rods, fiber optic communications systems, and lasers. Erbium also has an aesthetic application, for instance, it can be used as an additive in the glass to create a pink color.


Read more: Erbium Rare Earth Element: Introduction, Properties, and Applications

Europium (Eu)

EuropiumEuropium has not been isolated until 1901, because it is difficult to separate this element from the minerals containing other rare earth elements. Its name came from “the continent of Europe”. It is a moderately hard, silvery metal which readily oxidizes in air and water. Europium can be used as a luminous source to create visible light in compact fluorescent bulbs, which helped to popularize the early generations of color television sets. It can also be used on dollar notes that prevent counterfeiting.

Read more: Facts about Europium Rare Earth Element

Gadolinium (Gd)

GadoliniumGadolinium has specific properties that make it particularly suitable for some important applications in the medical area. For example, it can shield in nuclear reactors and neutron radiography. It can also target tumors in neuron treatment and can improve the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which helps both the tumor treatment and finding of tumor growth. X-ray and bone density tests also utilize gadolinium. In conclusion, gadolinium is a noteworthy rare earth element of present health care solutions.

Read more: An Overview of Rare-Earth Gadolinium

Holmium (Ho)

HolmiumHolmium was discovered in 1878 by Swedish chemist Per Theodor Cleve and its name came from the city of Stockholm. Similar with dysprosium, holmium also has incredible magnetic properties. Holmium alloy can be used to make magnetic flux concentrators, which can create the strongest magnetic fields. Apart from it, Holmium can also provide coloring to the glass.


Read more: Rare Earth Holmium- Facts and Applications

Lanthanum (La)

HolmiumLanthanum, a soft, malleable, silvery-white white metal, is one of the most reactive rare earth elements. It can be utilized to make special optical glasses and can also be utilized to make steel more malleable. In addition, lanthanum is helpful in wastewater treatment and oil refining. Scientists have given the name of “super calcium” to Lanthanum due to its application of photoconversion film.

Read more: Element Information about Rare Earth Lanthanum

Lutetium (Lu)

LutetiumAs the last of the lanthanide series, Lutetium has several interesting uses. For example, lutetium isotope can help reveal the age of ancient items, like antiques. Apart from it, lutetium isotope can also be used to target certain types of tumors. It can be used to make certain special alloys, such as lutetium aluminum alloy used for neutron activation analysis. Stable Lutetium nuclides can act as catalysts in petroleum cracking, alkylation, hydrogenation, and polymerization.

Read more: What You Need to know about Lutetium Element

Neodymium (Nd)


It is a soft, silvery metal that tarnishes in air. Neodymium has large specific heat capacity at low temperatures, so it is useful in the freezer. And it is used with praseodymium to create Neodymium magnets–the strongest permanent magnets are known. Certain transparent materials with a little neodymium particle can be utilized in lasers as gain media for infrared wavelengths.

Read more: Rare-Earth Element Neodymium and Its Uses

Promethium (Pm)

PromethiumPromethium is the only naturally radioactive rare earth element. Due to this property, all promethium in the earth’s crust has inevitably decayed into other elements. It accounted for that currently most of Promethium are artificially created Promethium. Most promethium is used for research purposes, and it is also used in watched and pacemakers.


Praseodymium (Pr)

PraseodymiumThis soft, silvery, malleable and ductile element is the third member of the lanthanide series. Its first application is to create a yellow-orange stain for ceramics. The combination with neodymium, praseodymium can be used to create high-power magnets notable for their strength and durability. Praseodymium can also be used for abrasive polishing. In addition, the use of Praseodymium in the field of fiber is also becoming more widespread.


Scandium (Sc)

ScandiumScandium, a silvery-white metal, is one of the two non-lanthanide rare earth element, together with yttrium. In the electronics industry, Scandium can be used as a variety of semiconductor devices; in the chemical industry, Scandium compounds are used as alcohol dehydrogenation and dehydrating agents to produce ethylene and high-efficiency catalysts for producing chlorine from waste hydrochloric acid; in the glass industry, it can be manufactured special glass containing Scandium. Scandium sputtering target is an important coating material in vacuum coating.

Read more on Scandium: Rare Earth Element and Application

Samarium (Sm)

SamariumSamarium is a moderately hard silvery metal that slowly oxidizes in air. It is a raw material for samarium-cobalt-based permanent magnets, which are the first rare earth magnets for industrial applications. Samarium oxide is also used in ceramic capacitors and catalysts. In addition, Samarium also can be used as a structural material for atomic energy reactors, screen materials and control materials to make nuclear fission generate huge energy for safe use.


Terbium (Tb)

TerbiumTerbium was discovered as an impurity in yttrium oxide (Y2O3) by Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander in 1843. It is a silvery-white, rare earth metal that is malleable, ductile, and soft enough to be cut with a knife. In recent years, magneto-optical materials made of Terbium have been mass-produced. They can be used as computer storage components to improve 10 to 15 times of capacity. Similarly, Terbium sputtering target is also an important coating material in thin film coating


Thulium (Tm)

ThuliumThulium, a silvery-gray metal, is the second-least abundant of the lanthanides. Thulium is used as a source of the medical portable X-ray machine. Thulium can also be used for clinical diagnosis and treatment of tumors because it has a higher affinity for tumor tissues. Thulium can also be used as the additive of the new type of lighting source – metal halide lamps.


Yttrium (Y)

YttriumYttrium is the other non-lanthanide rare earth element together with Scandium. And it is also the first discovered rare earth element. It is a gray-black metal that is malleable. Yttrium can be used in a wide range of industries: it can be used as a Yttrium phosphor to produce red color on TV screens; Yttrium is a high-temperature and corrosion-resistant cladding material for nuclear fuel; Yttrium sputtering target is an important coating material in vacuum coating.


Ytterbium (Yb)

YtterbiumYtterbium was discovered by the Swiss chemist Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac in 1878. It is named from a village in Sweden associated with its discovery. Ytterbium sputtering target can be used as a heat shield coating material. In addition, Ytterbium can be used as a material with super magnetostrictive properties (swelling in a magnetic field).


Rare earth elements have been widely used in electronics, petrochemical, metallurgy, machinery, energy, light industry, environmental protection, agriculture, and other fields. It can be said that rare earth has great development prospects.

Please visit https://www.sputtertargets.net/ for more information.

About the author

Julissa Green graduated from the University of Texas studying applied chemistry. She started her journalism life as a chemistry specialist in Stanford Advanced Materials (SAM) since 2016 and she has been fascinated by this fast growing industry ever since. If you have any particular topics of interest, or you have any questions, you can reach her at julissa@samaterials.com.

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