Scandium: Occurrence, Properties, Uses, and Isotopes of Scandium


Scandium is the first of transition elements. Its atomic number is 21 whereas its atomic mass is 44.95. It has 21 electrons. Scandium has 21 protons and 24 neutrons in its nucleus. Scandium is represented by the symbol “Sc”.

Naming and History

The name of Scandium is derived from the Latin “Scandia” word for Scandinavia. It is due to its presence in minerals out there.

  • Mendeleev

In the periodic table of Mendeleev, there was a gap between the atomic weights of calcium (40) and titanium (48). He predicted the element with intermediate atomic weight and its oxide would be X2O3.

  • Lars Frederik Nilson

Lars Frederik Nilson in 1879, in the University of Uppsala, Sweden discovered the Scandium. Nilson was studying the rare earth elements and trying to extract ytterbium from euxenite. Euxenite is a complex mineral consisting of eight metal oxides.

He was successful in extracting erbia (erbium oxide). He reacted this with nitrate to form erbium nitrate. He observed that his sample contain another element. He analyzed it under a spectroscope and found unique 30 spectral lines.

This was the element Scandium with low mass and its oxide Sc2O3 as predicted by Mendeleev. Nilson named it Scandium due to its occurrence in the minerals of Scandinavia.

  • Fischer and his colleagues

In 1937, Fischer and his colleagues prepared metallic scandium for the first time by electrolysis of molten scandium with lithium and potassium chlorides in a graphite crucible with tungsten wire and anode of molten zinc.

Occurrence of Scandium

Scandium does not occur as a free element in nature. It is commonly found in minerals such as euxenite, thortveitite, gadolinite, bazzite, wiikite, etc. The mining of Fluorine and Tantalum produces scandium as a by-product. Scandium is also a by-product of uranium refinement.


Properties of Scandium

Scandium is silvery, soft transition metal. It is light as aluminium. On exposure to air, it tarnishes and forms a coat of yellowish or pinkish color. Once ignited, it burns easily in the air. It reacts with water to form hydrogen gas. When scandium fluoride is heated with calcium metal, pure scandium is obtained.

The melting point of scandium is 1541°C and its boiling point is 2836°C. It has a very low density of 2.99 grams per cubic centimeter. Scandium exists as a solid at room temperature and can react with many acids. Scandium has white oxides but its salts are mostly colorless.

Scandium in Biological System

There is no significant role of scandium in living organisms. It is considered to have low toxicity but is suspected as a carcinogen.

Uses of Scandium

Scandium is very light so alloyed with aluminium and used in aircraft, jet planes, Russian MIG Fighter planes.

It is used in making high-end bicycle frames.

In houses, it is component of color televisions, mercury lamps, and glasses. Scandium iodide is added to mercury lamps to produce light resembling sunlight.

Scandium is used as a catalyst in some industries.

Scandium is used in fishing rods, baseball bats, golf shafts, glass polishers.

Scandia which is scandium oxide is used in high-intensity lights which are used in stadiums.

Very dilute scandium sulfate is used in the proper germination of seeds such as corn, wheat, and peas.

Scandium is very costly, so it is avoided to use and instead, aluminium and titanium are frequently used.

Isotopes of Scandium

There are 13 known isotopes of Scandium. The only stable and naturally occurring isotope is Sc- 45.

  • Scandium- 45 is a radioactive isotope and used as a detector to track leakages in underground pipes.
  • It is also used as a tracer to monitor various fractions of crude oil during oil refining.