Lithium – Occurrence, Properties, Uses, and Isotopes of Lithium

Lithium Element

Lithium is an alkali metal present in group 1 of the periodic table. Its atomic number is 3 and its atomic mass is 6.941.

This means lithium has 3 electrons, 3 protons but 4 electrons.

The symbol for lithium is “Li”.

Naming and History

The word lithium is derived from the Greek word “lithos” which means “stone”. As it is primarily present in rocks.

In the 1790s, José Bonifacio first discovered a mineral of lithium called petalite in Sweden. On burning, it gave crimson flame. In 1817, Johan Arfwedson, a Swedish chemist observed, studied, and analyzed the properties of that element in stone.

He deduced that it was a new element that was not known previously and gave the name Lithium and said that it was an alkali metal like sodium but was not successful in isolating it by electrolysis like Sodium.

William Brande and Humphry Davy independently isolated lithium for the first time by electrolysis of lithium oxide. In the late 1850s, German chemist Robert Bunsen and British chemist Augustus Matthiessen, by the electrolysis of lithium chloride got a bulk of lithium.

Occurrence of Lithium


Lithium is a highly reactive element so does not exist as a free element in nature. Mostly it is present in brine pools or lakes, minerals like petalite, spodumene, lepidolite, etc. It is primarily present in molten igneous rocks. Some amounts can also be found in sprig waters, salt waters. The major supplier of Lithium is Chile, where brine pools are present.

Properties of Lithium

Lithium is a highly reactive soft, silvery-white but lightest alkali metal. Its physical and chemical properties resemble more alkaline earth metal than its own group. Lithium in its pure form reacts with air to form lithium hydroxide due to vapor content in the air, lithium nitride reacting with nitrogen, and lithium carbonate on reaction with carbon dioxide.

The melting point of lithium is 180.50°C and its boiling point is 1342°C. It is the lightest metal with very low viscosity and a very low density of 0.534 grams per cubic centimeter. This density is less than water. Lithium exists as a solid at room temperature.

Lithium is corrosive. It reacts with water but not violently as sodium. It has a high specific heat capacity, high thermic conductivity, and metallic lithium are soluble in amines such as ethylamine. In elemental form, it is highly flammable and gives crimson flame on burning.

Further Reading:  Krypton Element: Naming and History, Occurrence, Properties and Uses
Lithium in Biological Systems

Some traces of lithium are present in human bodies. These are ingested with food. It has no known biological role but used in medications and pills for mood swings and maniac disorders.

Uses of Lithium

Due to its high specific heat capacity, lithium is used as a heat transfer agent and coolants in reactors where neutron bombardment takes place.

Lithium is widely used in rechargeable batteries such as mobiles, digital cameras, laptops, etc. it is also used in batteries of heart pacemakers and toys.


Due to its lightweight, it is alloyed with aluminum, copper, to make much stronger and powerful metals for aircraft.

Lithium chloride and lithium bromide have hygroscopic nature. These are used as drying agents.

Lithium stearate serves as a high-temperature lubricant and grease thickener.

Lithium is widely used in the manufacturing of special glasses, pottery, porcelain glazes, ceramics, etc.

Lithium carbonate is used in medications to treat mood swings.

Isotopes of Lithium

Lithium has 7 isotopes ranging from mass number 5 to 7. There are two naturally occurring stable isotopes of lithium. Lithium- 7 is more abundant with almost 92% and Lithium- 6 is about 7%.


  • What is the atomic number of lithium?
    • A) 2
    • B) 3
    • C) 4
    • D) 5
    • Answer: B
  • What is the atomic mass of lithium?
    • A) 6.941
    • B) 7.985
    • C) 8.356
    • D) 9.002
    • Answer: A
  • What is the symbol for lithium?
    • A) L
    • B) Li
    • C) Lt
    • D) Lh
    • Answer: B
  • From which language is the word “lithium” derived, and what does it mean?
    • A) Latin, “light”
    • B) Greek, “stone”
    • C) Sanskrit, “fire”
    • D) French, “metal”
    • Answer: B
  • Who first discovered the mineral petalite, a source of lithium, and in which country?
    • A) William Brande in Germany
    • B) José Bonifacio in Sweden
    • C) Johan Arfwedson in France
    • D) Robert Bunsen in England
    • Answer: B
  • How was lithium first isolated by scientists?
    • A) By burning petalite
    • B) By electrolysis of lithium chloride
    • C) By reacting lithium carbonate with carbon dioxide
    • D) By heating lithium oxide
    • Answer: B
  • In which form does lithium primarily exist in nature due to its high reactivity?
    • A) Free elemental form
    • B) Oxide form
    • C) Brine pools or lakes
    • D) Metallic form
    • Answer: C
  • Which country is a major supplier of lithium, where brine pools are present?
    • A) Australia
    • B) Chile
    • C) Canada
    • D) China
    • Answer: B
  • What is the melting point of lithium?
    • A) 150.20°C
    • B) 180.50°C
    • C) 200.75°C
    • D) 220.00°C
    • Answer: B
  • Why is lithium used as a heat transfer agent in reactors?
    • A) Due to its high reactivity
    • B) Because it is a good conductor of electricity
    • C) It has a high specific heat capacity
    • D) It is a powerful metal for aircraft
    • Answer: C
  • Which property makes lithium alloyed with aluminum and copper advantageous for aircraft?
    • A) High density
    • B) Low viscosity
    • C) Lightweight
    • D) High reactivity
    • Answer: C
  • In which biological systems are traces of lithium found, and what is its known role?
  • What is the primary use of lithium carbonate?
    • A) Heat transfer agent
    • B) Lubricant
    • C) Medication for mood swings
    • D) Battery component
    • Answer: C
  • Which isotopes of lithium are naturally occurring and stable?
    • A) Lithium-5 and Lithium-6
    • B) Lithium-6 and Lithium-7
    • C) Lithium-7 and Lithium-8
    • D) Lithium-8 and Lithium-9
    • Answer: B
  • What is the abundance percentage of Lithium-7, the more abundant stable isotope?
    • A) 85%
    • B) 92%
    • C) 96%
    • D) 99%
    • Answer: B
  • What is the percentage abundance of Lithium-6, the less abundant stable isotope?
    • A) 3%
    • B) 5%
    • C) 7%
    • D) 10%
    • Answer: A
Further Reading:  Valence Bond Theory (VBT) - History, Uses, & Limitation


In this tutorial on Lithium, we explored various aspects of this alkali metal, covering its element properties, historical context, occurrence, physical and chemical properties, biological presence, and versatile applications.

  • Lithium Element:
    • Alkali metal in Group 1 of the periodic table.
    • Atomic number: 3, Atomic mass: 6.941.
    • Symbol: “Li.”
  • Naming and History:
    • Derived from the Greek word “lithos” (stone) due to its primary presence in rocks.
    • Discovered by José Bonifacio and further studied by Johan Arfwedson in the 1790s.
  • Occurrence of Lithium:
    • Highly reactive and doesn’t exist freely in nature.
    • Found in brine pools, lakes, minerals like petalite, and molten igneous rocks.
    • Major supplier: Chile.
  • Properties of Lithium:
    • Highly reactive, soft, silvery-white alkali metal.
    • Reacts with air to form lithium hydroxide.
    • Low viscosity, low density (0.534 g/cm³), and exists as a solid at room temperature.
  • Lithium in Biological Systems:
    • Traces found in human bodies ingested with food.
    • No known biological role, but used in medications for mood disorders.
  • Uses of Lithium:
    • Heat transfer agent in reactors.
    • Widely used in rechargeable batteries (mobiles, laptops), heart pacemaker batteries, and toys.
    • Alloyed with metals for aircraft strength.
    • Used in drying agents, lubricants, and in the manufacturing of special glasses, ceramics, etc.
  • Isotopes of Lithium:
    • 7 isotopes ranging from mass number 5 to 7.
    • Two stable isotopes: Lithium-7 (92%) and Lithium-6 (7%).
Further Reading:  Cadmium: Occurrence, Properties, Uses, and Isotopes of Cadmium

This tutorial provides a holistic understanding of Lithium, encompassing its fundamental properties, historical significance, natural occurrence, and the diverse applications that make it a crucial element in various industries.