Gallium: the essentials
Gallium is the only metal, except for mercury, caesium, and rubidium, which can be liquid near room temperatures; this makes possible its use in high-temperature thermometers. It has one of the longest liquid ranges of any metal and has a low vapour pressure even at high temperatures.
Ultra-pure gallium has a beautiful, silvery appearance, and the solid metal exhibits a conchoidal fracture similar to glass. The metal expands on solidifying; therefore, it should not be stored in glass or metal containers, as they may break as the metal solidifies.
Gallium: historical information
Gallium was an element whose existence was predicted by Mendeleev in 1871. He predicted that the then unknown element gallium should resemble aluminium in its properties. He suggested therefore the name ekaaluminium (symbol Ea). His predictions for the properties of gallium are remarkably close to the reality. Gallium was discovered spectroscopically by Paul-Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran in 1875, who in the same year obtained the free metal by electrolysis of a solution of the hydroxide Ga(OH)3 in KOH.
Gallium: physical properties
Gallium: orbital properties
Isolation: gallium is normally a byproduct of the manufacture of aluminium. The purification of bauxite by the Bayer process results in concentration of gallium in the alkaline solutions from an aluminium:gallum ratio from 5000 to 300. Electrolysis using a mercury electrode gives a further concentration and further electrolysis using a stainless steel cathode of the resulting sodium gallate affords liquid gallium metal.
Very pure gallium requires a number of further processes ending with zone refining to make very pure gallium metal.