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Periodic Table of Elements: LANL

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Osmium is used to produce fountain pen tips. Osmium is used to produce fountain pen tips.


Atomic Number: 76 Atomic Radius: 216 pm (Van der Waals)
Atomic Symbol: Os Melting Point: 3033 °C
Atomic Weight: 190.2 Boiling Point: 5012 °C
Electron Configuration: [Xe]6s24f145d6 Oxidation States: 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, −1, −2, −4 ​(a mildly acidic oxide)


Discovered in 1803 by Tennant in the residue left when crude platinum is dissolved by aqua regia.


Osmium occurs in iridosule and in platinum-bearing river sands in the Urals, North America, and South America. It is also found in the nickel-bearing ores of Sudbury, Ontario region along with other platinum metals. While the quantity of platinum metals in these ores is very small, the large tonnages of processed nickel ores make commercial recovery possible.


The metal is lustrous, bluish white, extremely hard, and brittle even at high temperatures. It has the highest melting point and the lowest vapor pressure of the platinum group. The metal is very difficult to fabricate, but the powdered or spongy metal slowly gives off osmium tetroxide, which as a powerful oxidizing agent and has a strong smell. The tetroxide is highly toxic, and boils at 130°C.

Density measurements show osmium to be a a little more dense than iridium, and osmium is often cited as the heavier element. However, calculations of the density from the space lattice, which may be more reliable than these measurements, give a density of 22.65 for iridium compared to 22.61 for osmium. According to IUPAC, because of this apparent contradiction, no decision has been made as to which is heavier.


Concentrations in air as low as 107 g/m3 can cause lung congestion, skin damage, or eye damage. Exposure to osmium tetroxide should not exceed 0.0016 mg/m3 (8-hour time weighted average - 40-hour work week).


The tetroxide has been used to detect fingerprints and to stain fatty tissue for microscope slides. The metal is almost entirely used to produce very hard alloys with other metals of the platinum group for fountain pen tips, instrument pivots, phonograph needles, and electrical contacts.

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