This metal is the ninth most abundant element in the universe. In 2007, almost 749 thousand tonnes of magnesium metal were mined. This total production excludes data from the United States, which did not disclose its production figures.
Physical properties: Magnesium is a strong, silvery-white colored metal that is very light (1.74 gram/cm3) and soft (2.5 on a 10 point scale). Its alloys are prized for their lightness and their strength. Being light and strong, magnesium alloys are widely used in the construction of buildings. Magnesium melts at 650C, and boils at 1091C.
The blinding light of camera flashes often comes from burning thin strips of magnesium.
Chemical properties: Magnesium tarnishes slightly when exposed to air, but after a little while it develops a thin but tenacious (hard to remove) layer of "tarnish" that protects it from further corrosion. This is why magnesium does not have to be stored in sealed containers. Magnesium reacts slowly and gently with water at room temperature, but it does so more aggressively with hot water. Magnesium is flammable, burning gently when it is a solid, but dangerously fast when it is powdered. When it is powdered, it burns dangerously fast producing a brilliant white light. A big magnesium fire can reach temperatures over 2,980C.
History: The name "magnesium" comes from the ancient Greek word for a place called Magnesia. This metal is the seventh most common element in the Earth's crust by mass, and is found in many places. In 1618, in Epsom, England, a farmer tried to give his cattle water from a nearby well. The cattle tasted the water, but they then refused to drink it due to the bitter taste of the water. Soon after, the farmer realized that the bitter tasting water from the well helped to heal scratches and rashes much faster. He extracted a type of salt from the water and started producing it. Soon, the salts (now called Epsom salts, after the place they were found) became famous for their medicinal property. The salt was later found to be magnesium salt: hydrated magnesium sulfate. Pure magnesium was first produced in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) by using electricity.
Production: Magnesium is found in over 60 minerals, the main ones being dolomite, magnesite, brucite, carnallite, talc, and olivine. Adding a compound called calcium hydroxide to sea water also causes a solid magnesium compound to be deposited. This compound is treated with hydrochloric acid to produce another magnesium compound, from which magnesium is extracted using electrolysis. Magnesium is also obtained from some ores by dissolving them in water and using electrolysis. In the United States the electrolysis of brines, and well and sea water is used to produce magnesium. The top five producers of magnesium (excluding the United States) are China, Russia, Israel, Kazakhstan and Brazil. Pie Chart of Top 5 Magnesium Producing Countries...
Uses: Magnesium is third most used metal in the construction of structures after steel and aluminum. Another common use of Magnesium-Aluminum alloys is to make beverage cans. Being light, magnesium is used to make a variety of car and truck components. The metal frames of high-end car tires are made of magnesium. Magnesium was also used to make parts of airplanes during World War I and II. Today, magnesium is used to make portable electronic items such as laptop computers and mobile phones, which need to be strong without being heavy. The brilliant light from burning magnesium is used in fireworks, flares and photographic flashes. Milk of Magnesia, a suspension of magnesium hydroxide in water, is widely used as a medicine for indigestion.
Health: All living cells need magnesium to survive, so all life on earth depends on it. Over 300 enzymes need magnesium atoms to carry out their duties. Plants need magnesium to make chlorophyll. Deprived of this metal, the veins in a plant become yellow. Magnesium deficiency in the soil can be corrected by adding Epsom salts or crushed limestone. A healthy human diet needs an average of 24 grams of magnesium, and magnesium deficiency causes loss of immunity, sudden depression, diabetes, increased levels of stress, insomnia, migraine, cancer, ADHD, asthma, Restless Leg Syndrome, and various types of allergies. Only 32% of all people in the U.S. eat the recommended daily quantity of magnesium. Spices, nuts, cereals, coffee, cocoa, tea, and leafy vegetables are good sources of magnesium. In an emergency, magnesium can also be fed into the body intravenously.
Uttley, Colin. Magnesium: The Elements, 2000, Marshall Cavendish, USA.
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