What is Rhenium?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Rhenium is a metallic chemical element classified among the transition elements on the periodic table. This element is extremely rare, and it does not have very many applications as a result. Consumers rarely interact with rhenium, although they may own products which contain this element. The primary sources for rhenium around the world are Chile, the United States, and Kazakhstan; pure rhenium tends to be rather expensive due to the element's rarity.

Rhenium is identified with the symbol Re on the periodic table of elements, and it has the atomic number of 75.
Rhenium is identified with the symbol Re on the periodic table of elements, and it has the atomic number of 75.

The element is found in a mineral known as columbite as well as in some ores, often in conjunction with platinum. When rhenium is isolated, it is a silvery white, extremely dense metal. Rhenium has a high melting point, which makes it especially useful in certain applications. Commercially, rhenium is usually sold in the form of a powder. The element is identified with the symbol Re on the periodic table of elements, and it has the atomic number of 75.

Exposure to rhenium fumes can cause dizziness.
Exposure to rhenium fumes can cause dizziness.

This element was the last naturally occurring element to be discovered. In the early 20th century, chemists speculated about its existence, but it wasn't until 1925 that rhenium was successfully isolated and described by Walter Noddack, Ida Tack, and Otto Berg. The element is named after the Latin word for the River Rhine, a reference to Germany, the nation in which the element was discovered.

The high melting point of rhenium makes it valuable in some metal alloys, and as a filament in lamps and gauges. Rhenium is also used for electrical contacts, and it can be used to make superconductive alloys. The element is extremely resistant to corrosion, making it a popular choice of catalyst for chemical reactions, especially in the petrochemical industry, where it is used to crack hydrocarbons into shorter chains.

The health effects of this element are not fully known. When powdered, rhenium is flammable, and the powder has also been shown to be an irritant, especially to the lungs, intestinal tract, and mucus membranes. Rhenium vapors can cause dizziness, and the element does not appear to be biologically necessary. As a general rule, protection should be worn when working with rhenium to avoid exposure to dust, vapors, and shreds of the metal.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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