What is Osmium?

November 17, 2008 | By | 1 Reply More

Osmium is a shiny silvery-bluish grey brittle metal in the Platinum group of metals.

The chemical symbol for Osmium is Os.

When heated in air it gives off the characteristic and toxic odour of osmium tetroxide.

Because of the toxicity of osmium tetroxide the metal is most often used as an alloy with other metals and as a catalyst.

Osmium alloys are characterized by their hardness and consequent resistance to wear.

With Iridium, Osmium is the densest of all elements, being about twice the weight of gold by volume.

Another notable characteristic of Osmium is that it has a lower compressibility than diamonds.

The History of Osmium

Osmium was discovered in 1803 by Smithson Tennant (1761-1815)

Because of the pungent smell given off by the metal during the purification process Tennant named it after osme, the Greek word for smell.

Smithson Tennant was a friend of William Hyde Wollaston and collaborated with him in the isolation of the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs).

In 1800 Tennant and Wollaston entered into partnership to buy a quantity of platinum ore believed to have originated in South America.

Wollaston discovered rhodium and palladium in 1803/4 by treating this ore with aqua regia whilst Tennant worked on the insoluble residues remaining after this treatment.

Tennant became aware that this residue of insoluble black powder had a very high density suggesting that other elements were present. This led to his discovery of osmium and iridium.

Smithson Tennant was born the son of a clergyman in Selby Yorkshire. At the age of nine he was making gunpowder for fireworks. He studied medicine for one year at Edinburgh University before moving, in 1782, to Christ’s College Cambridge to take up his early interest in chemistry and also to study botany.

He traveled extensively in Europe meeting with a number of celebrated scientists and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society at the unusually young age of twenty-four.

Among his more notable achievements was to demonstrate that burning diamonds gave off only carbon dioxide in about the same quantity as oxidizing a similar amount of charcoal.

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Category: Platinum Group Metals

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