Lithium was first discovered in the early 1800s and was named after the Greek word 'lithos' which means stone. It is a highly reactive metal and must be stored in oil to prevent it from reacting with air or moisture. Lithium can be extracted from some naturally occurring minerals or from the evaporation of lithium-containing brine (water with a very high salt concentration). It is has a low density – allowing it to float on water.
Lithium is used extensively in batteries. The Nobel prize in 2019 was awarded to John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their work in developing lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable and are used in many devices, such as mobile phones and laptops. Lithium is an important component in the battery - the movement of lithium within the battery is part of the process that allows current to flow, when it is in a circuit.
Lithium also has a number of other applications. Lithium salts absorb carbon dioxide in air purification systems, including those used on submarines and spacecraft. Organolithium compounds are widely employed as reagents in chemical reactions. Lithium is also used as a red colourant in fireworks and in medicine as a drug to treat certain mental illnesses.
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If you want to find out more about some of the terms and concepts we have a Frequently Asked Questions Page.