Yttrium (Y)

Yttrium is a chemical element with atomic number 39 in the periodic table. This element is the most plentiful rare-earth metal found in the igneous rocks of Earth’s crust after cerium. Being a member of the transition group in the periodic table, this heavy metal has three valence electrons and forms only a few compounds. 

Element 69 is typically associated with other rare-earth mineral ores. Its most practical application is in the production of red phosphor which is used in both LED and color televisions.

Chemical and Physical Properties of Yttrium

The symbol in the periodic table of elementsY
Atomic number39
Atomic weight (mass)88.9059 g.mol-1
Group number3 (Transition metals)
Period5 (d-block)
ColorA lustrous silvery iron-gray metal
Physical stateSolid at room temperature
Half-lifeFrom less than 170 nanoseconds to 106.616(13) days
Electronegativity according to Pauling1.2
Density4.47 at 20°C
Melting point1522°C, 2772°F, 1795 K
Boiling point3345°C, 6053°F, 3618 K
Van der Waals radius0.106 nm (+3)
Ionic radius1.02 (+3) Å
Most characteristic isotope89Y
Electronic shell[Kr] 4d15s2
The energy of the first ionization626 kJ.mol-1
The energy of the second ionization1185 kJ.mol-1
The energy of the third ionization1980 kJ.mol-1
Discovery dateIn 1794 by Johan Gadolin

Classified as a rare-earth element, yttrium is located between the elements strontium and zirconium in the periodic table, under scandium and above lanthanum. This chemical element has the symbol Y, atomic number 39, atomic mass of 88.9059 g.mol-1, and electron configuration [Kr] 4d15s2

Yttrium is a soft, ductile, and silvery d-block element with excellent superconductivity. It reaches its boiling point at 3345°C, 6053°F, 3618 K, while the melting point is achieved at 1522°C, 2772°F, 1795 K. This member of the transition metals family of elements has an electronegativity of 1.2 according to Pauling, whereas the atomic radius according to van der Waals is 0.106 nm (+3).

How Was Yttrium Discovered?

During the early 18th century, the small village of Ytterby in Sweden became a center for the discovery of new chemical elements, especially rare-earth metals. It all began in 1787 when the Swedish officer and geologist Carl Axel Arrhenius (1757 – 1824) discovered the black mineral ytterbite in a mine near Ytterby rich in feldspar and quartz ores. 

After the Stockholm inspector of the mines Bengt Geijer analyzed the new substance, he observed a presence of iron and possibly tungsten in the sample. In order to obtain a more accurate analysis, Arrhenius asked the Finnish chemist and mineralogist Johan Gadolin (1760 – 1852) to help him determine the composition of the newly discovered mineral he had labeled as ytterbite

Based in Finland, Gadolin conducted a series of experimental analyses on the sample received from the Swedish officer in 1794. Upon detailed studying of the sample, Gadolin determined that the Ytterby sample contains 31% silica, 19% alumina, 12% iron oxide, and 38% of an unknown earth element. 

Johan Gadolin succeeded in isolating yttrium within the yttrium-iron-beryllium-silicate mineral he observed. In 1800, Martin Klaproth named it gadolinite in honor of the Swedish chemist. 

In 1828, the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler (1800-1882) obtained the first sample of yttrium metal by heating anhydrous yttrium (III) chloride with potassium. The result of this chemical reaction was a gray powder of the metal form of element 69. 

The Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander also studied yttrium samples in 1843. His scientific evidence pointed to the fact that the mineral consisted of three oxides: yttria, erbia, and terbia. 

In 1953, the American chemist Frank Spedding succeeded in preparing the high purity metal of yttrium, at Ames Laboratory, Iowa, United States. For this, he utilized the ion exchange technique. 

How Did Yttrium Get Its Name?

Yttrium is named after the village Ytterby in Sweden, which proved to be a location rich in yttrium ores and rare-earth minerals.

Where Can You Find Yttrium?

Being a rare-earth element, yttrium always occurs in association with other rare-earth mineral ores, like monazite and bastnasite. Small amounts of element 69 can also be traced in the minerals barnasite, fergusonite, samarskite, laterite clays, gadolinite, euxenite, and xenotime, as well as in uranium ores. 

For commercial purposes, yttrium can be separated from the other rare-earth elements in ore by liquid-liquid or ion-exchange extraction. Also, yttrium metal is produced by the reduction of yttrium fluoride with calcium metal.

List of Yttrium Minerals

The following is a list of minerals from which yttrium can also be isolated:

  • Adamsite-(Y)
  • Aeschynite-(Y)
  • Allanite
  • Ashcroftine-(Y)
  • Bagrationite
  • Bijvoetite-(Y)
  • Decrespignyite-(Y)
  • Euxenite
  • Kainosite-(Y)
  • Keilhauite
  • Mckelveyite-(Y)
  • Polycrase
  • Rare-earth mineral
  • Reederite-(Y)
  • Samarskite-(Y)
  • Thomasclarkite-(Y)
  • Thortveitite
  • Xenotime
  • Yttriaite-(Y)
  • Yttrialite
  • Yttrocerite
  • Yttrogummite

Yttrium in Everyday Life

Being classified as a rare-earth element, yttrium and its compounds have a limited but notable everyday use:

  • Oxide yttria (Y2O3) and yttrium orthovanadate are combined with a chemical element known as europium to produce red phosphor which is used to create the red color in LED and color televisions;
  • Element 69 is commonly used as an additive in alloys for increasing the strength of aluminum and magnesium alloys;
  • This chemical element is often applied in the manufacturing process of microwave filters for radars, as well as a catalyst in ethene polymerization;
  • Yttrium-aluminium garnet (YAG) has a wide application in the manufacturing of lasers which have the strength to cut through metals;
  • Small amounts of yttrium support reduction of grain size in chromium, molybdenum, zirconium, and titanium;
  • When used in glass, yttrium oxide gives both heat- and shock-resistant properties to it. For this reason, yttrium oxides are also used in the manufacturing of camera lenses;
  • Superconductors made with yttrium oxide possess the ability to conduct electricity without any loss of energy. The operating superconductivity temperature of yttrium oxide superconductors is above liquid nitrogen’s boiling point.
  • Yttrium aluminum garnet is also used in jewelry as a simulated diamond and other gemstones;
  • The radioactive isotope yttrium-90 is used in medicine for manufacturing special needles that can pierce the tissue more precisely than scalpels, as well as in treatments in some types of cancers;
  • High-temperature superconducting ceramics, such as YBa2Cu3O7, are also made with yttrium.

How Dangerous Is Yttrium?

Yttrium is not classified as a toxic element. On the other hand, while its water-soluble compounds are considered to be moderately toxic, the insoluble ytterbium compounds are nontoxic. Also, yttrium particles may pose a fire and explosion hazard when exposed to a high temperature. Namely, shavings or turnings of the metal can easily ignite at temperatures over 400oC.

Environmental Effects of Yttrium

The elemental form of yttrium has no known biological role. However, since it’s used by petrol-producing industries, this chemical element can be an environmental pollutant if the industrial wastes are improperly handled.

Isotopes of Yttrium

There are 35 isotopes of yttrium observed so far. Naturally occurring yttrium (39Y) is made of only one stable isotope – the yttrium-89 form. All yttrium isotopes below this stable isotope predominantly undergo a decay process via electron capture, followed by a beta emission as the second dominant mode of decay. 

Having a half-life of 106.616(13) days, yttrium-88 is the most stable radioactive isotope of element 69. Most yttrium isotopes live for only a part of a second to a day before they decay into strontium (Sr), rubidium (Rb), or zirconium (Zr). 


[n 1]

ZNIsotopic mass (Da)

[n 2][n 3]


[n 4]



[n 5]



[n 6][n 7]

Spin and


[n 8][n 4]

Natural abundance (mole fraction)
Excitation energy[n 4]Normal proportionRange of variation
76Y393775.95845(54)#500# ns [>170 ns]     
77Y393876.94965(7)#63(17) msp (>99.9%)76Sr5/2+#  
β+ (<.1%)77Sr 
78Y393977.94361(43)#54(5) msβ+78Sr(0+)  
79Y394078.93735(48)14.8(6) sβ+ (>99.9%)79Sr(5/2+)#  
β+, p (<.1%)78Rb 
80Y394179.93428(19)30.1(5) sβ+80Sr4−  
81Y394280.92913(7)70.4(10) sβ+81Sr(5/2+)  
82Y394381.92679(11)8.30(20) sβ+82Sr1+  
83Y394482.92235(5)7.08(6) minβ+83Sr9/2+  
84Y394583.92039(10)39.5(8) minβ+84Sr1+  
85Y394684.916433(20)2.68(5) hβ+85Sr(1/2)−  
86Y394785.914886(15)14.74(2) hβ+86Sr4−  
87Y394886.9108757(17)79.8(3) hβ+87Sr1/2−  
88Y394987.9095011(20)106.616(13) dβ+88Sr4−  
89Y[n 9]395088.9058483(27)Stable1/2−1.0000 
90Y[n 9]395189.9071519(27)64.053(20) hβ90Zr2−  
91Y[n 9]395290.907305(3)58.51(6) dβ91Zr1/2−  
92Y395391.908949(10)3.54(1) hβ92Zr2−  
93Y395492.909583(11)10.18(8) hβ93Zr1/2−  
94Y395593.911595(8)18.7(1) minβ94Zr2−  
95Y395694.912821(8)10.3(1) minβ95Zr1/2−  
96Y395795.915891(25)5.34(5) sβ96Zr0−  
97Y395896.918134(13)3.75(3) sβ (99.942%)97Zr(1/2−)  
β, n (.058%)96Zr 
98Y395997.922203(26)0.548(2) sβ (99.669%)98Zr(0)−  
β, n (.331%)97Zr 
99Y396098.924636(26)1.470(7) sβ (98.1%)99Zr(5/2+)  
β, n (1.9%)98Zr 
100Y396199.92776(8)735(7) msβ (98.98%)100Zr1−,2−  
β, n (1.02%)99Zr 
101Y3962100.93031(10)426(20) msβ (98.06%)101Zr(5/2+)  
β, n (1.94%)100Zr 
102Y3963101.93356(9)0.30(1) sβ (95.1%)102Zr   
β, n (4.9%)101Zr 
103Y3964102.93673(32)#224(19) msβ (91.7%)103Zr5/2+#  
β, n (8.3%)102Zr 
104Y3965103.94105(43)#180(60) msβ104Zr   
105Y3966104.94487(54)#60# ms [>300 ns]β105Zr5/2+#  
106Y3967105.94979(75)#50# ms [>300 ns]β106Zr   
107Y3968106.95414(54)#30# ms [>300 ns]  5/2+#  
108Y[2]3969107.95948(86)#20# ms [>300 ns]     

Source: Wikipedia

List of Yttrium Compounds

Yttrium is a trivalent chemical that adopts an oxidation state of +3 when it participates in a compound. It mainly forms water-insoluble compounds, such as oxalates, hydroxides, and fluorides. The yttrium compounds that are soluble in water are considered to be mildly toxic. 

The following is a list of the most commonly prepared yttrium compounds:

  • Gadolinium yttrium garnet
  • Lutetium–yttrium oxyorthosilicate
  • Nd:YAB
  • Nd:YAG laser
  • Nd:YCOB
  • Yttrium barium copper oxide: YBCO
  • Yttrium aluminum garnet
  • Neodymium-doped yttrium lithium fluoride
  • Neodymium-doped yttrium orthovanadate
  • Tetragonal polycrystalline zirconia
  • YInMn Blue
  • Yttralox
  • Yttrium aluminium garnet
  • Yttrium barium copper oxide
  • Yttrium borides
  • Yttrium hydride
  • Yttrium hydroxide
  • Yttrium iron garnet
  • Yttrium lithium fluoride
  • Yttrium nitride
  • Yttrium orthovanadate
  • Yttrium oxyfluoride
  • Yttrium(III) phosphate
  • Yttrium phosphide
  • Yttrium(III) antimonide
  • Yttrium(III) arsenide
  • Yttrium(III) bromide
  • Yttrium(III) chloride
  • Yttrium(III) fluoride
  • Yttrium(III) nitrate
  • Yttrium(III) oxide
  • Yttrium(III) sulfate
  • Yttrium(III) sulfide

5 Interesting Facts and Explanations

  1. Yttrium is the first of the rare-earth metals (REMs) that have been discovered. 
  2. The rock samples brought back from the Moon by the American Apollo Project crew have been estimated to contain a relatively high amount of yttrium – from 54 to 213 parts per million.
  3. The group of rare-earth elements (REEs) consists of yttrium, scandium and 15 lanthanides: lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium.
  4. Rare-earth elements can be classified as light rare-earth elements (LREEs), middle rare-earth elements (MREEs), and heavy rare-earth elements (HREEs) according to their atomic weight. 
  5. Due to its high atomic weight, yttrium is considered a heavy rare-earth element (HREE). 
  6. Gadolin’s yttria contained yttrium oxide and eight other rare-earth metals that have been discovered in the years after: erbium, terbium, ytterbium, scandium, thulium, holmium dysprosium, and lutetium.