Tellurium is a chemical element with the atomic number 52 in the periodic table. It’s an extremely rarely found element in Earth’s crust. Its occurrence can be compared with that of the element platinum.
Being a member of the chalcogen elements family of the periodic table, this rare, silver-white metalloid element possesses the chemical properties of both metals and nonmetals. Element 52 naturally occurs in many tellurium-rich minerals, such as the tellurates and tellurites. It forms numerous compounds that can often be found as natural complexes.
Chemical and Physical Properties of Tellurium
|Symbol of Tellurium||Te|
|Atomic Number of Tellurium||52|
|Group of Tellurium||Non-Metal|
|Crystal Structure of Tellurium||Hexagonal|
|Atomic Weight of Tellurium||127.6|
|Shells of Tellurium||2,8,18,18,6|
|Orbitals of Tellurium||[Kr] 4d10 5s2 5p4|
|Valence of Tellurium||2,4,6|
|Electronegativity according to Pauling||2.1|
|Covalent Radius of Tellurium||1.36 Å|
|Ionic Radius of Tellurium||.97 (+4) Å|
|Atomic Radius of Tellurium||1.42 Å|
|Atomic Volume of Tellurium||20.5 cm³/mol|
|Name Origin of Tellurium||Latin: tellus (earth).|
|Discovered By||Franz Müller von Reichenstein|
|Pronounced of Tellurium||te-LOOR-i-em|
|Oxydation States of Tellurium||-2,(4),6|
|Density of Tellurium||6.24 g/cm³|
|Uses of Tellurium||Used to improve the machining quality of copper and stainless steel products and to color glass and ceramics. Also in thermoelectric devices. Some is used in the rubber industry and it is a basic ingredient in manufacturing blasting caps.|
|Description of Tellurium||Shiny, black, non-metalic solid; as a gas it is violet and intensely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat.|
|Physical state||Solid at room temperature|
|Half-life||From less than 18 nanoseconds to 8.2 (0.2 (stat.), 0.6 (syst.))×1020 years|
|Most characteristic isotope||130Te|
|The energy of the first ionization||869.0 kJ.mol-1|
With the periodic table symbol Te, atomic number 52, atomic mass of 127.6 g.mol-1, and electron configuration [Kr] 4d105s25p4, tellurium is a crystalline, silvery-white semi-metal substance that shares the properties of both metal and the non-metal elements of the periodic table. It reaches its boiling point at 988°C, 1810°F, 1261 K, while the melting point is achieved at 449.51°C, 841.12°F, 722.66 K.
Tellurium is classified as a member of the chalcogen (group 16) family of elements in the periodic table. It has an electronegativity of 2.1 according to Pauling, whereas the atomic radius according to van der Waals is 0.137 nm.
With a hexagonal crystal structure and metallic luster, this semi-metallic element is a brittle substance that is unaffected by water or hydrochloric acid but easily dissolves in nitric acid. When exposed to air, tellurium burns in air with a greenish-blue flame and forms white tellurium dioxide (TeO2). In a chemical reaction with hydrogen, tellurium forms only one compound – hydrogen telluride. H2Te is a gas at room temperature.
How Was Tellurium Discovered?
Element 52 was discovered by the Austrian mining official and mineralogist Franz-Joseph Muller (1740-1825). During the 1700s, the chemists of that time were somewhat puzzled by the substance that could be traced in a wide range of minerals. They labeled it “aurum paradoxum” and ‘‘metallum problematum” because its chemical behavior resembled both the metals and the non-metals.
In 1782, Muller conducted an analysis of Transylvanian gold ore. He decided to purify it, in an effort to prove his belief that this ore contains antimony. Today we know that this ore was actually gold telluride (AuTe2), also known as calaverite. The results he obtained from his experiment proved him wrong, but at the same time encouraged him to believe that he was en route to discovering a new element.
Searching for additional scientific confirmation, Muller sent a sample of the substance he isolated to Swedish chemist and mineralogist Torbern Bergman (1735-1784) in Uppsala, Sweden. His fellow chemist agreed that the sample did not contain any antimony, and expressed an interest to do further research on the substance. Unfortunately, Bergman passed away soon after it.
For some time, Franz-Joseph Muller was preoccupied with other researchers. In 1796, he renewed his interest in the substance with strange behavior and asked the German chemist Martin H. Klaproth (1743 – 1817) to help him clarify the mystery surrounding the new element.
After two years of research on the sample in his Berlin laboratory, Martin Heinrich Klaproth was proud to present his findings on the new element of the periodic table, after successfully isolating the new substance. Klaproth named the new lament tellurium but gave all credits for the discovery of element 52 to Franz Joseph Müller von Reichenstein.
How Did Tellurium Get Its Name?
The name tellurium of element 52 originates from the Latin word ‘tellus‘, which is a term referring to Earth.
Where Can You Find Tellurium?
Tellurium mostly occurs in minerals, including krennerite, calaverite, and sylvanite. However, none of these minerals are mined as the main source of this chemical element.
For commercial purposes, tellurium is most often obtained as a byproduct from the anode muds resulting from the electrolytic refining of blister copper. The world’s largest producers of tellurium are Japan, Peru, Canada, and the United States.
List of Telluride Minerals
The list of other tellurium-rich minerals includes the following items:
Tellurium in Everyday Life
Tellurium’s physical and chemical properties are most often used in the following instances:
- When added to tin, lead, and aluminum, tellurium improves the machinability, resistance, strength, and durability of these alloys;
- The electronic, semiconductor, and metallurgy industries apply tellurium in the production of thermoelectric devices, blasting caps, cast iron, chips, modulators, and optical discs;
- Element 52 is often added to stainless steel and copper, and is also used as an oxidizer and colorant;
- Tellurium is also added to lead to increase its strength and resistance to sulfuric acid (H2SO4);
- Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is included in the production process of solar panels and solar cells;
- In combination with mercury and cadmium, tellurium is used for the manufacturing of photosensitive conductors.
How Dangerous Is Tellurium?
When tellurium is ingested, our body transforms it into dimethyl telluride (a compound from the
telluroethers class). Upon exposure to tellurium fumes or any of its toxic compounds, this chemical may trigger side effects, such as nausea, loss of sweat gland function, headache, eye irritation, vomiting, constipation, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, a garlic-like odor from the mouth (tellurium breath), or even tellurium poisoning.
This chemical is also classified as a teratogen, i.e. a chemical agent that may disturb the proper development of the embryo or fetus.
Environmental Effects of Tellurium
Tellurium is not considered a hazardous substance and doesn’t have any negative effects on the geological, biological, or aquatic systems of our environment.
Isotopes of Tellurium
There are 39 isotopes of tellurium. The naturally occurring form of this chemical element consists of 8 isotopes, among which two are radioactive (128Te and 130Te). These two isotopes are also the most common forms of the chemical element 52. Stable isotopes make up only 33.2% of naturally occurring tellurium.
|Z||N||Isotopic mass (Da)
[n 2][n 3]
[n 4][n 5]
[n 8][n 5]
|Natural abundance (mole fraction)|
|Excitation energy||Normal proportion||Range of variation|
|107Te||52||55||106.93501(32)#||3.1(1) ms||α (70%)||103Sn||5/2+#|
|108Te||52||56||107.92944(11)||2.1(1) s||α (49%)||104Sn||0+|
|β+, p (2.4%)||107Sn|
|β+, α (.065%)||104In|
|109Te||52||57||108.92742(7)||4.6(3) s||β+ (86.99%)||109Sb||(5/2+)|
|β+, p (9.4%)||108Sn|
|β+, α (.005%)||105In|
|110Te||52||58||109.92241(6)||18.6(8) s||β+ (99.99%)||110Sb||0+|
|β+, p (.003%)||109Sn|
|β+, p (rare)||110Sn|
|120Te||52||68||119.90402(1)||Observationally Stable[n 9]||0+||9(1)×10−4|
|123Te||52||71||122.9042700(16)||Observationally Stable[n 10]||1/2+||0.0089(3)|
|127Te[n 11]||52||75||126.9052263(16)||9.35(7) h||β−||127I||3/2+|
|128Te[n 11][n 12]||52||76||127.9044631(19)||2.2(3)×1024 y[n 13]||β−β−||128Xe||0+||0.3174(8)|
|129Te[n 11]||52||77||128.9065982(19)||69.6(3) min||β−||129I||3/2+|
|130Te[n 11][n 12]||52||78||129.9062244(21)||8.2(0.2 (stat.), 0.6 (syst.))×1020 y||β−β−||130Xe||0+||0.3408(62)|
|131Te[n 11]||52||79||130.9085239(21)||25.0(1) min||β−||131I||3/2+|
|132Te[n 11]||52||80||131.908553(7)||3.204(13) d||β−||132I||0+|
|135Te[n 14]||52||83||134.91645(10)||19.0(2) s||β−||135I||(7/2−)|
|136Te||52||84||135.92010(5)||17.63(8) s||β− (98.7%)||136I||0+|
|β−, n (1.3%)||135I|
|137Te||52||85||136.92532(13)||2.49(5) s||β− (97.01%)||137I||3/2−#|
|β−, n (2.99%)||136I|
|138Te||52||86||137.92922(22)#||1.4(4) s||β− (93.7%)||138I||0+|
|β−, n (6.3%)||137I|
List of Tellurium Compounds
Tellurium’s chemical behavior resembles the one of sulfur and selenium in many aspects. Like these two chemical elements, tellurium also exhibits bi-, quadri-, and sexavalency. The tellurium compounds in a quadrivalent condition are the most stable compounds of this chemical element.
In addition, tellurium typically adopts the oxidation states of −2, +2, +4, and +6 in a compound, and often forms oxocompounds, polytellurides, tellurides, and organotellurium compounds. ELement 52 also reacts with halogens (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine) to form halides.
Tellurides are a class of organotellurium compounds in which the main participant is tellurium. Most of them occur as natural chemical complexes:
- Potassium tellurite
- Sodium tellurite
- Antimony telluride
- Beryllium telluride
- Bismuth telluride
- Cadmium telluride
- Cadmium zinc telluride
- Chromium(III) telluride
- Dimethyl telluride
- Gallium(II) telluride
- Gallium(III) telluride
- Germanium telluride
- Gold chalcogenides
- Hydrogen telluride
- Indium(III) telluride
- Lead telluride
- Lead tin telluride
- Telluric acid
- Manganese(II) telluride
- Mercury cadmium telluride
- Mercury telluride
- Mercury zinc telluride
- Molybdenum ditelluride
- Potassium telluride
- Rhenium ditelluride
- Rubidium telluride
- Silver telluride
- Sodium telluride
- Tantalum telluride
- Telluride bromide
- Telluride iodide
- Telluride oxide
- Telluride phosphide
- Thallium(I) telluride
- Tin telluride
- Tungsten ditelluride
- Tellurium iodide
- Tellurium tetrabromide
- Tellurium tetrachloride
- Tellurium tetrafluoride
- Tellurium tetraiodide
- Dimethyl telluride
- Diphenyl ditelluride
5 Interesting Facts and Explanations
- Tellurium is present in Earth’s crust only in about 0.001 parts per million.
- The name of the chalcogens comes from the Greek word ‘chalkos’, referring to the bronze ore. This group (16) in the periodic table includes the elements oxygen, tellurium, sulfur, selenium, and polonium.
- Sylvanite and calverite are, in fact, tellurides of gold.
- For his discovery of tellurium, the Emperor Joseph II of Austria appointed Franz-Joseph Müller as the chief inspector of mines in Transylvania. After a while, he conferred upon him the title of Baron von Reichenstein.
- The Hungarian chemist and botanist Pal Kitaibel independently discovered tellurium in 1789.