Gallium (pronounced /ˈɡæliəm/, GAL-ee-əm) is a chemical element that has the symbol Ga and atomic number 31. Elemental gallium does not occur in nature, but as the gallium(III) salt in trace amounts in bauxite and zinc ores. A soft silvery metallic poor metal, elemental gallium is a brittle solid at low temperatures. As it liquefies slightly above room temperature, it will melt in the hand. Its melting point is used as a temperature reference point, and from its discovery in 1875 to the semiconductor era, its primary uses were in high-temperature thermometric applications and in preparation of metal alloys with unusual properties of stability, or ease of melting; some being liquid at room temperature or below. The alloy Galinstan (68.5% Ga, 21.5% In, 10% Sn) has a melting point of about −19 °C (−2.2 °F).
In semiconductors, an important application is in the compounds gallium arsenide and gallium nitride, used most notably in light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Semiconductor use is now almost the entire (> 95%) world market for gallium, but new uses in alloys and fuel cells continue to be discovered.
Gallium is not known to be essential in biology, but because of the biological handling of gallium's primary ionic salt gallium(III) as though it were iron(III), the gallium ion localizes to and interacts with many processes in the body in which iron(III) is manipulated. As these processes include inflammation, which is a marker for many disease states, several gallium salts are used, or are in development, as both pharmaceuticals and radiopharmaceuticals in medicine.
Elemental gallium is not found in nature, but it is easily obtained by smelting. Very pure gallium metal has a brilliant silvery color and its solid metal fractures conchoidally like glass. Gallium metal expands by 3.1 percent when it solidifies, and therefore storage in either glass or metal containers is avoided, due to the possibility of container rupture with freezing. Gallium shares the higher-density liquid state with only a few materials like silicon, germanium, bismuth, antimony and water.
Gallium attacks most other metals by diffusing into their metal lattice. Gallium for example diffuses into the grain boundaries of Al/Zn alloys or steel, making them very brittle. Also, gallium metal easily alloys with many metals, and was used in small quantities as a plutonium-gallium alloy in the plutonium cores of the first and third nuclear bombs, to help stabilize the plutonium crystal structure.
The melting point of 302.9146 K (29.7646°C, 85.5763°F) is near room temperature. Gallium's melting point (mp) is one of the formal temperature reference points in the International Temperature Scale of 1990 (ITS-90) established by BIPM. The triple point of gallium of 302.9166 K (29.7666°C, 85.5799°F), is being used by NIST in preference to gallium's melting point.
Gallium is a metal that will melt in one's hand. This metal has a strong tendency to supercool below its melting point/freezing point. Seeding with a crystal helps to initiate freezing. Gallium is one of the metals (with caesium, rubidium, francium and mercury) which are liquid at or near normal room temperature, and can therefore be used in metal-in-glass high-temperature thermometers. It is also notable for having one of the largest liquid ranges for a metal, and (unlike mercury) for having a low vapor pressure at high temperatures. Unlike mercury, liquid gallium metal wets glass and skin, making it mechanically more difficult to handle (even though it is substantially less toxic and requires far fewer precautions). For this reason as well as the metal contamination problem and freezing-expansion problems noted above, samples of gallium metal are usually supplied in polyethylene packets within other containers.
Gallium does not crystallize in any of the simple crystal structures. The stable phase under normal conditions is orthorhombic with 8 atoms in the conventional unit cell. Each atom has only one nearest neighbor (at a distance of 244 pm) and six other neighbors within additional 39 pm. Many stable and metastable phases are found as function of temperature and pressure.
The bonding between the nearest neighbors is found to be of covalent character, hence Ga2 dimers are seen as the fundamental building blocks of the crystal. This explains the drop of the melting point compared to its neighbour elements aluminium and indium. The compound with arsenic, gallium arsenide is a semiconductor commonly used in light-emitting diodes.
High-purity gallium is dissolved slowly by mineral acids.
Gallium has no known biological role, although it has been observed to stimulate metabolism.
Gallium (the Latin Gallia means "Gaul", essentially modern France) was discovered spectroscopically by Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran in 1875 by its characteristic spectrum (two violet lines) in an examination of a zinc blende from the Pyrenees. Before its discovery, most of its properties had been predicted and described by Dmitri Mendeleev (who had called the hypothetical element "eka-aluminium" on the basis of its position in his periodic table). Later, in 1875, Lecoq obtained the free metal by electrolysis of its hydroxide in potassium hydroxide solution. He named the element "gallia" after his native land of France. It was later claimed that, in one of those multilingual puns so beloved of men of science in the early 19th century, he had also named gallium after himself, as his name, "Le coq", is the French for "the rooster", and the Latin for "rooster" is "gallus"; however, in an 1877 article Lecoq denied this supposition. (The supposition was also noted in Building Blocks of the Universe, a book on the elements by Isaac Asimov; cf. the naming of the J/ψ meson.)
Gallium does not exist in free form in nature, and the few high-gallium minerals such as gallite (CuGaS2) are too rare to serve as a primary source of the element or its compounds. Its abundance in the Earth's crust is approximately 16.9 ppm. Gallium is found and extracted as a trace component in bauxite and to a small extent from sphalerite. The amount extracted from coal, diaspore and germanite in which gallium is also present is negligible. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates gallium reserves to exceed 1 million tonnes, based on 50 ppm by weight concentration in known reserves of bauxite and zinc ores. Some flue dusts from burning coal have been shown to contain small quantities of gallium, typically less than 1% by weight.
The only two economic sources for gallium are as byproduct of aluminium and zinc production, while the sphalerite for zinc production is the minor source. Most gallium is extracted from the crude aluminium hydroxide solution of the Bayer process for producing alumina and aluminium. A mercury cell electrolysis and hydrolysis of the amalgam with sodium hydroxide leads to sodium gallate. Electrolysis then gives gallium metal. For semiconductor use, further purification is carried out using zone melting, or else single crystal extraction from a melt (Czochralski process). Purities of 99.9999% are routinely achieved and commercially widely available. An exact number for the world wide production is not available, but it is estimated that in 2007 the production of gallium was 184 tonnes with less than 100 tonnes from mining and the rest from scrap recycling.
Gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) used in electronic components represented about 98% of the gallium consumption in the United States. World wide gallium arsenide makes up 95% of the annual global gallium consumption. The semiconductor applications are the main reason for the low-cost commercial availability of the extremely high-purity (99.9999+%) metal: As a component of the semiconductor gallium arsenide, the most common application for gallium is optoelectronic devices (mostly laser diodes and light-emitting diodes.) Smaller amounts of gallium arsenide are use for the manufacture of ultra-high speed logic chips and MESFETs for low-noise microwave preamplifiers.
Gallium is used as a dopant for the production of solid-state devices such as transistors. However, worldwide the actual quantity used for this purpose is minute, since dopant levels are usually of the order of a few parts per million.
Multijunction photovoltaic cell is used for special application, first developed and deployed for satellite power applications, are made by molecular beam epitaxy or metalorganic vapour phase epitaxy of thin films of gallium arsenide, indium gallium phosphide or indium gallium arsenide.The Mars Exploration Rovers and several satellites use triple junction gallium arsenide on germanium cells. Gallium is the rarest component of new photovoltaic compounds (such as copper indium gallium selenium sulfide or Cu(In,Ga)(Se,S)2) for use in solar panels as a more efficient alternative to crystalline silicon.
Wetting and alloy improvement
* Because gallium wets glass or porcelain, gallium can be used to create brilliant mirrors. When the wetting action of gallium-alloys is not desired (as in Galinstan glass thermometers), the glass must be protected with a transparent layer of gallium(III) oxide.
A nearly eutectic alloy of gallium, indium, and tin is a room temperature liquid which is widely available in medical thermometers, replacing problematic mercury. This alloy, with the trade-name Galinstan (with the "-stan" referring to the tin), has a low freezing point of −19 °C (−2.2°F). It has been suggested that this family of alloys could also be used to cool computer chips in place of water. Much research is being devoted to gallium alloys as substitutes for mercury dental amalgams, but these compounds have yet to see wide acceptance.
Aluminium is reactive enough to reduce water to hydrogen, being oxidized to aluminium oxide. However, the aluminium oxide forms a protective coat which prevents further reaction. Galinstan has been applied to activate aluminum (removing the oxide coat), so that aluminum can react with water, generating hydrogen and steam in a reaction being considered as a helpful step in a hydrogen economy. A number of other gallium-alluminum alloys are also usable for the purpose of essentially acting as chemical energy store to generate hydrogen from water, on-site.
After reaction with water the resultant aluminium oxide and gallium mixture might be reformed back into electrodes with energy input. The thermodynamic efficiency of the aluminium smelting process is estimated as 50%. Therefore, at most half the energy that goes into smelting the aluminium could be recovered by a hydrogen fuel cell.
As gallium(III) salts
* Gallium nitrate (brand name Ganite) has been used as an intravenous pharmaceutical to treat hypercalcemia associated with tumor metastasis to bones. Gallium is thought to interfere with osteoclast function. It may be effective when other treatments for maligancy-associated hypercalcemia are not.
Gallium-67 salts such as gallium citrate and gallium nitrate are used as radiopharmaceutical agents in a nuclear medicine imaging procedure commonly referred to as a gallium scan. The form or salt of gallium is not important, since it is the free dissolved gallium ion Ga3+ which is the active radiotracer. For these applications, the radioactive isotope 67Ga is used. The body handles Ga3+ in many ways as though it were iron, and thus it is bound (and concentrates) in areas of inflammation, such as infection, and also areas of rapid cell division. This allows such sites to be imaged by nuclear scan techniques. This use has largely been replaced by fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) for positron emission tomography, "PET" scan and indium-111 labelled leukocyte scans. However, the localization of gallium in the body has some properties which make it unique in some circumstances from competing modalities using other radioisotopes.
Gallium-68, a positron emitter with a half life of 68 min., is now used as a diagnostic radionuclide in CT-PET when linked to pharmaceutical preparations such as DOTATOC, a somatostatin analogue used for neuroendocrine tumors investigation, and DOTATATE, a newer one, used for neuroendocrine metastasis and lung neuroendocrine cancer, such as certain types of microcytoma. Galium-68's preparation as a pharmaceutical is chemical and the radionuclide is extracted by elution from germanium-68, a synthetic radioisotope of germanium, in gallium-68 generators.
* Magnesium gallate containing impurities (such as Mn2+), is beginning to be used in ultraviolet-activated phosphor powder.
While not considered toxic, the data about gallium are inconclusive. Some sources suggest that it may cause dermatitis from prolonged exposure; other tests have not caused a positive reaction. Like most metals, finely divided gallium loses its luster and powdered gallium appears gray. Thus, when gallium is handled with bare hands, the extremely fine dispersion of liquid gallium droplets, which results from wetting skin with the metal, may appear as a gray skin stain.
* Gallium compounds
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