Niobium: the essentials

The name niobium was adopted officially by IUPAC in 1950, but a few commercial producers still like to refer to it as columbium. Niobium is a shiny, white, soft, and ductile metal, and takes on a bluish tinge when exposed to air at room temperatures for a long time. The metal starts to oxidize in air at high temperatures, and when handled hot must be done so under a protective atmosphere so as to minimize oxide production.

Niobium: historical information

Niobium was discovered by Charles Hatchett in 1801 at England. Origin of name: from the Greek word "Niobe" meaning "daughter of Tantalus" (tantalum is closely related to niobium in the periodic table).

Niobium was discovered in 1801 by Charles Hatchett in an ore called columbite sent to England in the 1750s by John Winthrop the Younger, the first goveror of Connecticut, USA. Hatchett called the new element columbium. He was not able to isolate the free element. There was then considerable confusion concerning the distinction between niobium and tantalum as they are so closely related. This confustion was resolved by Heinrich Rose, who named niobium, and Marignac in 1846. The name niobium is now used in place of the original name "columbium".

The metal niobium was first prepared in 1864 by Blomstrand, who reduced the chloride by heating it in a hydrogen atmosphere.

Niobium around us Read more »

Niobium has no biological role.

The metal is never found as the free element. Minerals containing niobium usually contain tantalum as well. Niobium is found in niobite [columbite, (Fe, Mn)(Nb, Ta)2)O6], niobite-tantalite [(Fe, Mn)(Ta, Nb)2)O6], pyrochlore (NaCaNb2O6F), and euxenite [(Y, Ca, Ce, U, Th)(Nb, Ta, Ti)2O6] from Brazil, Canada, Nigeria, Russia, and Zaire.

Abundances for niobium in a number of different environments. More abundance data »
Location ppb by weight ppb by atoms Links
Universe 2 0.02 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the universe on a miniature periodic table spark table
Crustal rocks 17000 3700 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the earth's crust on a miniature periodic table spark table
Human (no data) ppb by weight (no data) atoms relative to C = 1000000 Chemical elements abundance by weight in humans on a miniature periodic table spark table

Physical properties Read more »

Heat properties Read more »

Crystal structure Read more »

The solid state structure of niobium is: bcc (body-centred cubic).

Niobium: orbital properties Read more »

Niobium atoms have 41 electrons and the shell structure is The ground state electronic configuration of neutral Niobium is [Kr].4d4.5s1 and the term symbol of Niobium is 6D1/2.


Isolation: isolation of niobium appears to be complicated. Niobium minerals usually contain both niobium and tantalum. Since they are so similar chemically, it is difficult to separate them. Niobium can be extracted from the ores by first fusing the ore with alkali, and then extracting the resultant mixture into hydrofluoric acid, HF. Current methodology involves the separation of tantalum from these acid solutions using a liquid-liquid extraction technique. In this process tantalum salts are extracted into the ketone MIBK (methyl isobutyl ketone, 4-methyl pentan-2-one). The niobium remains in the HF solution. Acidification of the HF solution followed by further extraction in MIBK gives an organic solution containing niobium.

After conversion to the oxide, metallic niobium can be made by reduction with sodium or carbon. Electrolysis of molten fluorides is also used.

Niobium isotopes Read more »

Table. Stables isotopes of niobium.
Isotope Mass
(atom %)
spin (I)
moment (μ/μN)
93Nb 92.9063772 (27) 100 9/2 6.1705

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