The Discovery of Zirconium



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The naming of zirconium is based on zircon. As early as a few centuries ago, zircon has been used as jewelry. The bible said that zircon is one of the 12 kinds of precious stones worn by the high priest of Israel.

Zircon has all kinds of beautiful color from orange to red, colorless zircon presents a dazzling brilliance after cutting. It is for this reason that zircon is taken for a soft qualitative diamond in a very long period of time.

The discovery and extracting of zirconium owe to two chemists, German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth and the Swedish chemist, Jons Jacob Berzelius. The two chemists have made remarkable contribution in the discovery and purification of zirconium.

In 1789, German chemist Martin proved that the zircon is not diamond, which clarified the misunderstanding of zircon. Through heating the zircon with reactive compound sodium hydroxide, he found that the two substances generated a oxide. Martin believed that the oxide containing a new element. He named this new oxide zirconium oxide, and this new element zirconium.

Martin was unable to extract pure zirconium since it is similar to hafnium in chemical properties; also, zirconium and hafnium are co-existence in zirconium ore. Until 35 years later, in 1824, the Swedish chemist Berzelius extracted pure zirconium for the first time. At that time, there were several other chemists also committed to the work, but all failed. Through placing a mixture of potassium and zirconium fluoride potassium in an iron tube heated, Berzelius extracted pure zirconium successfully, and the purity of the zirconium powder generated in the experiment as high as 93%, which have not been able to improve again within 100 years. Nowadays, most zirconium is extracted from zircon (ZrSiO4) and cubic zirconia (ZrO2), the extracted process is known as “Kroll Process”.

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