Ytterbium: the essentials

Ytterbium has a bright silvery lustre, is soft, malleable, and quite ductile. While the element is fairly stable, it should be kept in closed containers to protect it from air and moisture. Ytterbium is readily attacked and dissolved by mineral acids and reacts slowly with water.

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Ytterbium: historical information

Ytterbium was discovered by Jean de Marignac in 1878 at Switzerland. Origin of name: named after the village of "Ytterby" near Vaxholm in Sweden.

In 1878 Marignac discovered a component, which he called ytterbia, in the earth then known as erbia. In 1907, Urbain separated ytterbia into two components, which he called neoytterbia and lutecia. The elements in these earths are now known as ytterbium and lutetium, respectively. These elements are identical with aldebaranium and cassiopeium, discovered independently and at about the same time by von Welsbach. The impure element was first prepared by Klemm and Bonner in 1937 who reduced ytterbium trichloride with potassium. Daane, Dennison, and Spedding prepared a purer form in 1953 from which the chemical and physical properties of the element could be determined.

Ytterbium around us Read more »

Ytterbium has no biological role but is said to stimulate the metabolism.

Ytterbium is never found in nature as the free element. Ytterbium is found in the ore monazite sand [(Ce, La, etc.)PO4] and an ore containing small amounts of all the rare earth metals. It is also found in the ores euxenite and xenotime. It is difficult to separate from other rare earth elements.

Abundances for ytterbium in a number of different environments. More abundance data »
Location ppb by weight ppb by atoms Links
Universe 2 0.01 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the universe on a miniature periodic table spark table
Crustal rocks 2800 340 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 ytterbium is: ccp (cubic close-packed).

Ytterbium: orbital properties Read more »

Ytterbium atoms have 70 electrons and the shell structure is The ground state electronic configuration of neutral Ytterbium is [Xe].4f14.6s2 and the term symbol of Ytterbium is 1S0.


Isolation: ytterbium metal is available commercially so it is not normally necessary to make it in the laboratory, which is just as well as it is difficult to isolate as the pure metal. This is largely because of the way it is found in nature. The lanthanoids are found in nature in a number of minerals. The most important are xenotime, monazite, and bastnaesite. The first two are orthophosphate minerals LnPO4 (Ln deonotes a mixture of all the lanthanoids except promethium which is vanishingly rare) and the third is a fluoride carbonate LnCO3F. Lanthanoids with even atomic numbers are more common. The most comon lanthanoids in these minerals are, in order, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, and praseodymium. Monazite also contains thorium and ytrrium which makes handling difficult since thorium and its decomposition products are radioactive.

For many purposes it is not particularly necessary to separate the metals, but if separation into individual metals is required, the process is complex. Initially, the metals are extracted as salts from the ores by extraction with sulphuric acid (H2SO4), hydrochloric acid (HCl), and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Modern purification techniques for these lanthanoid salt mixtures are ingenious and involve selective complexation techniques, solvent extractions, and ion exchange chromatography.

Pure ytterbium is available through the electrolysis of a mixture of molten YbCl3 and NaCl (or CaCl2) in a graphite cell which acts as cathode using graphite as anode. The other product is chlorine gas.

Ytterbium isotopes Read more »

Ytterbium has seven stable isotopes and two of them are used for medical and industrial purposes. Yb-168 is used for the production of Yb-169 and this radioisotope is used as a radiation source in gamma cameras. Yb-169 is also used in the medical field where it has been proposed as an alternative for I-125 and Pd-103 in the treatment of prostate cancer while it is also used for diagnostics in the gastrointestinal tract. Yb-176 can be used as a target for the production of carrier-free Lu-177 with a high specific activity. Yb-171 in an excited state has been proposed as an optical frequency standard, while the other Yb isotopes are used in various physics experiments.

Table. Stables isotopes of ytterbium.
Isotope Mass
(atom %)
spin (I)
moment (μ/μN)
168Yb 167.933894 (5) 0.13 (1) 0
170Yb 169.934759 (4) 3.04 (15) 0
171Yb 170.936323 (3) 14.28 (57) 1/2 0.4919
172Yb 171.936378 (3) 21.83 (67) 0
173Yb 172.938208 (3) 16.13 (27) 5/2 -0.6776
174Yb 173.938859 (3) 31.83 (92) 0
176Yb 175.942564 (4) 12.76 (41) 0

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