No story is complete without some mystery and intrigue and this element has the lot! Cobalt is derived from the German word for “goblin” or “evil spirit” and played a superstitious role with early miners. Adding the belief that goblins stole valuable silver ores and replaced them with cobalt - causing the rise of toxic fumes that threatened death of the mining worker - you have the making of a great suspense thriller.
photo by Heinrich Pniok (www.pse-mendelejew.de)
licensed by CC-BY-NC-ND
The Truth About Cobalt
Pure cobalt is not found in nature but its compounds are. Wikipedia states: “Cobalt is a chemical element and is naturally found in a chemically combined form. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt).
Cobalt can be traced back to the early Egyptians with traces of the blue hue found in jewellery, artefacts and tombs. Cobalt is typically found near lead, copper, nickel and silver ores. Because it is blended with other metals, it needs to be refined in order to be used. Like its chromium counterpart, cobalt has a biological role by being an essential trace element for animals. It is found in the coenzyme cobalamin, more commonly known as vitamin B12.
Fun Fact: Cobalt is also an active nutrient for bacteria, algae and fungi.
What Is Cobalt Used For?
Cobalt can become spontaneously magnetize and can hold a magnetic charge for long periods. This makes it a popular choice in alloys. As it can withstand extremely high temperatures when combined with other metals it is also used in jet engines. A blue dye is extracted from its salts is used in pigmentation and colouring of objects like ceramics, glassware and paints. It is widely used in batteries and as a catalyst in the production of varnishes and inks.
Its biological role includes the healthy maintenance of the body. It is used in radiotherapy. In large quantities it can be detrimental to the body and its radioactive isotopes can be deadly if they are not monitored properly by physicians. Let’s not forget the drama of its toxic arsenic fumes (a popular killer in movies).
Where Is Cobalt Mined?
Cobalt began being produced in Norway, Hungary, Sweden and Saxony. It later extended to America and Canada when it was discovered in New Caledonia and Ontario. Currently it is also mined in Australia, South America and Europe but the biggest deposits and mining production are found in the Katanga Province in the Congo.
With its rich history clouded in superstition and found in the tombs of Egypt and Greece, cobalt has been used across the centuries in both productive and deadly formats.
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