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Physical and Chemical Properties of the Rare Earths

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The Rare Earth Elements

Part of the book series: SpringerBriefs in Earth Sciences ((BRIEFSEARTH))


This chapter discusses the chemical and physical properties of the lanthanides, some of which are in a certain way peculiar. It discusses the oxidation states of the REE, and the phenomenon called the lanthanide contraction (meaning that the atomic radius decreases with increasing atomic number in the series lanthanum–lutetium). It lists the isotopes known per element, and explains the radioactivity of promethium, the only element of the rare earths that has only radioactive isotopes and no stable isotopes. Magnetism and luminescence also are discussed.

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  1. 1.

    Coordination number: this is in chemistry the number of the near neighbors of a central atom in a molecule.

  2. 2.

    Named after Erwin Madelung (1881–1972), German physicist.

  3. 3.

    The Oddo—Harkins rule states that elements with an even atomic number (such as carbon) are more common than elements with an odd atomic number (such as nitrogen). Reference: Wikipedia,–Harkins_rule See also Oddo (1914) and Harkins (1917).

  4. 4.

    Orbital penetration is a term that illustrates the proximity of electrons in an orbital to the nucleus. If the penetration for an electron is greater, it experiences less shielding, and therefore a larger effective nuclear charge.

  5. 5.

    Z = Atomic Number.

  6. 6.

    Isobars refers here to atoms (nuclides) of different chemical elements that have the same number of nucleons (particles in the nucleus, i.e. protons or neutrons). Correspondingly, isobars differ in atomic number (or number of protons) but have the same mass number.

  7. 7.

    Josef Mattauch (1895–1976) was a German physicist known for his work on establishing the isotopic abundances by mass spectrometry.

  8. 8.

    Ferromagnetism is the magnetism commonly observed in iron, nickel and cobalt. The following types of magnetism are also recognized: ferrimagnetism, antiferromagnetism, and paramagnetism. The first two occur only below the Curie-temperature, the last one only above. On heating. a ferromagnetic, ferrimagnetic or antiferromagnetic material will convert to a paramagnetic material at the Curie-temperature. A paramagnetic material is only magnetic when placed in a magnetic field. Antiferromagnetic substances are actually not magnetic at all. This is because of a special organization of electron spins with opposite sign, which carry the magnetic moments. The magnetic moments of these electron spins cancel each other out, contrary to ferrimagnetism, where they do not, resulting in the case of ferrimagnetism as an observable magnetism.


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Correspondence to J. H. L. Voncken .

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Voncken, J.H.L. (2016). Physical and Chemical Properties of the Rare Earths. In: The Rare Earth Elements. SpringerBriefs in Earth Sciences. Springer, Cham.

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