Periodic Table > Yttrium


Some elements exist in several different structural forms, these are called allotropes.

For more information on Murray Robertson’s image see Uses and properties facts below.


Fact box terminology

Elements appear in columns or ‘groups’ in the periodic table. Members of a group typically have similar properties and electron configurations in their outer shell.

Elements are laid out into rows or ‘periods’ so that similar chemical behaviour is observed in columns.

Elements are organised into blocks by the orbital type in which the outer electrons are found. These blocks are named for the characteristic spectra they produce: sharp, principal, diffuse, and fundamental.

Atomic Number
The number of protons in the nucleus.

Atomic Radius/non -bonded (Å)
based on Van der Waals forces (where several isotopes exist, a value is presented for the most prevalent isotope). These values were calculated using a multitude of methods including crystallographic data, gas kinetic collision cross sections, critical densities, liquid state properties, for more details please refer to the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.

Electron Configuration
The arrangements of electrons above the last (closed shell) noble gas.

Elements are defined by the number of protons in its centre (nucleus), whilst the number of neutrons present can vary. The variations in the number of neutrons will create elements of different mass which are known as isotopes.

Melting Point (oC)
The temperature at which the solid-liquid phase change occurs.

Melting Point (K)
The temperature at which the solid-liquid phase change occurs.

Melting Point (oF)
The temperature at which the solid-liquid phase change occurs.

Boiling Point (oC)
The temperature at which the liquid-gas phase change occurs.

Boiling Point (K)
The temperature at which the liquid-gas phase change occurs.

Boiling Point (oF)
The temperature at which the liquid-gas phase change occurs.

Elements that do not possess a liquid phase at atmospheric pressure (1 atm) are described as going through a sublimation process.

Density (g cm-3)
Density is the mass of a substance that would fill 1 cm3 at room temperature.

Relative Atomic Mass
The mass of an atom relative to that of Carbon-12. This is approximately the sum of the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Where more than one isotope exists the value given is the abundance weighted average.

Key Isotopes (% abundance)
An element must by definition have a fixed number of protons in its nucleus, and as such has a fixed atomic number, however variants of an element can exist with differing numbers of neutrons, and hence a different atomic masses (e.g. 12C has 6 protons and 6 neutrons and 13C has 6 protons and 7 neutrons).

CAS number
The Chemical Abstracts Service registry number is a unique identifier of a particular chemical, designed to prevent confusion arising from different languages and naming systems (where several isotopes exist, a value is presented for the most prevalent isotope).

Fact box

Group Melting point 1522 oC, 2771.6 oF, 1795.15 K 
Period Boiling point 3345 oC, 6053 oF, 3618.15 K 
Block Density (g cm-3) 4.47 
Atomic number 39  Relative atomic mass 88.906  
State at room temperature Solid  Key isotopes 89
Electron configuration [Kr] 4d15s2  CAS number 7440-65-5 
ChemSpider ID 22429 ChemSpider is a free chemical structure database

Uses and properties terminology

Image Explanation

Murray Robertson is the artist behind the images which make up Visual Elements. This is where the artist explains his interpretation of the element and the science behind the picture.

Natural Abundance

Where this element is most commonly found in nature.

Biological Roles

The elements role within the body of humans, animals and plants. Also functionality in medical advancements both today and years ago.


The description of the element in its natural form.

Uses and properties

Image explanation
The radar reflects the use of yttrium in radar technology.  The element also used to provide the red colour for early colour television screens, and this is the reason for the background which echoes the Warner Bros. ‘That’s all Folks!’ cartoon splash screen.
A soft, silvery metal.
Yttrium is often used as an additive in alloys. It increases the strength of aluminium and magnesium alloys. It is also used in the making of microwave filters for radar and has been used as a catalyst in ethene polymerisation.
Yttrium-aluminium garnet (YAG) is used in lasers that can cut through metals. It is also used in white LED lights.

Yttrium oxide is added to the glass used to make camera lenses to make them heat and shock resistant. It is also used to make superconductors. Yttrium oxysulfide used to be widely used to produce red phosphors for old-style colour television tubes.

The radioactive isotope yttrium-90 has medical uses. It can be used to treat some cancers, such as liver cancer.
Biological role
Yttrium has no known biological role. Its soluble salts are mildly toxic.
Natural abundance
Xenotime can contain up to 50% yttrium phosphate. It is mined in China and Malaysia. Yttrium also occurs in the other ‘rare earth’ minerals, monazite and bastnaesite. Yttrium metal is produced by reducing yttrium fluoride with calcium metal.
Atomic data terminology

Atomic radius/non -bonded (Å)
Based on Van der Waals forces (where several isotopes exist, a value is presented for the most prevalent isotope). These values were calculated using a multitude of methods including crystallographic data, gas kinetic collision cross sections, critical densities, liquid state properties,for more details please refer to the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.

Electron affinity (kJ mol-1)
The energy released when an additional electron is attached to the neutral atom and a negative ion is formed (where several isotopes exist, a value is presented for the most prevalent isotope). *

Electronegativity (Pauling scale)
The degree to which an atom attracts electrons towards itself, expressed on a relative scale as a function bond dissociation energies, Ed in eV. χA - χB =(eV)-1/2sqrt(Ed(AB)-[Ed(AA)+Ed(BB)]/2), with χH set as 2.2 (where several isotopes exist, a value is presented for the most prevalent isotope).

1st Ionisation energy (kJ mol-1)
The minimum energy required to remove an electron from a neutral atom in its ground state (where several isotopes exist, a value is presented for the most prevalent isotope).

Covalent radius (Å)
The size of the atom within a covalent bond, given for typical oxidation number and coordination (where several isotopes exist, a value is presented for the most prevalent isotope). ***

Atomic data

Atomic radius, non-bonded (Å) 2.32 Covalent radius (Å) 1.76
Electron affinity (kJ mol-1) 29.611 Electronegativity
(Pauling scale)
Ionisation energies
(kJ mol-1)

Mining/Sourcing Information

Data for this section of the data page has been provided by the British Geological Survey. To review the full report please click here or please look at their website here.

Key for numbers generated

Governance indicators

1 (low) = 0 to 2

2 (medium-low) = 3 to 4

3 (medium) = 5 to 6

4 (medium-high) = 7 to 8

5 (high) = 9

Reserve distribution (%)

1 (low) = 0 to 30 %

2 (medium-low) = 30 to 45 %

3 (medium) = 45 to 60 %

4 (medium-high) = 60 to 75 %

5 (high) = 75 %

(Where data are unavailable an arbitrary score of 2 was allocated. For example, Be, As, Na, S, In, Cl, Ca and Ge are allocated a score of 2 since reserve base information is unavailable. Reserve base data are also unavailable for coal; however, reserve data for 2008 are available from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).)

Production Concentration

1 (low) = 0 to 30 %

2 (medium-low) = 30 to 45 %

3 (medium) = 45 to 60 %

4 (medium-high) = 60 to 75 %

5 (high) = 75 %

Crustal Abundance

1 (low) = 100 to 1000 ppm

2 (medium-low) =10 to 100 ppm

3 (medium) = 1 to 10 ppm

4 (medium-high) = 0.1 to 1 ppm

5 (high) = 0.1 ppm

(Where data are unavailable an arbitrary score of 2 was allocated. For example, He is allocated a score of 2 since crustal abundance data is unavailable.)

Explanations for terminology

Crustal Abundance (ppm)

The abundance of an element in the Earth's crust in parts-per-million (ppm) i.e. The number of atoms of this element per 1 million atoms of crust.


The country with the largest reserve base.

Reserve distribution (%)

This is a measure of the spread of future supplies, recording the percentage of a known resource likely to be available in the intermediate future (reserve base) located in the top three countries.

Production Concentrations

This reports the percentage of an element produced in the top three countries. The higher the value, the larger risk there is to supply.

Political stability of top producer

The World Bank produces a global percentile rank of political stability. The scoring system is given below, and the values for all three production countries were summed.

Relative Supply Risk Index

The Crustal Abundance, Reserve distribution (%), Production Concentration and Governance Factor scores are summed and then divided by 2, to provide an overall Relative Supply Risk Index.

Supply risk

Relative supply risk Unknown
Crustal abundance (ppm) Unknown
Recycling rate (%) Unknown
Substitutability Unknown
Production concentration (%) Unknown
Reserve distribution (%) Unknown
Top 3 producers
  • Unknown
Top 3 reserve holders
  • Unknown
Political stability of top producer Unknown
Political stability of top reserve holder Unknown

Oxidation states and isotopes

Key for Isotopes

Half Life
  y years
  d days
  h hours
  m minutes
  s seconds
Mode of decay
  α alpha particle emission
  β negative beta (electron) emission
  β+ positron emission
  EC orbital electron capture
  sf spontaneous fission
  ββ double beta emission
  ECEC double orbital electron capture


Common Oxidation states
The oxidation state of an atom is a measure of the degree of oxidation of an atom. It is defined as being the charge that an atom would have if all bonds were ionic. Free atoms have an oxidation state of 0, and the sum of oxidation numbers within a substance must equal the overall charge.

Important Oxidation states
The most common oxidation states of an element in its compounds.

Elements are defined by the number of protons in its centre (nucleus), whilst the number of neutrons present can vary. The variations in the number of neutrons will create elements of different mass which are known as isotopes.

Oxidation states and isotopes

Common oxidation states 3
Isotopes Isotope Atomic mass Natural abundance (%) Half life Mode of decay
  89Y 88.906 100

Pressure and temperature - advanced terminology

Specific heat capacity (J kg-1 K-1)

Specific heat capacity is the amount of energy needed to change the temperature of a kilogram of a substance by 1 K.

Young's modulus (GPa)

Young's modulus is a measure of the stiffness of a substance, that is, it provides a measure of how difficult it is to extend a material, with a value given by the ratio of tensile strength to tensile strain.

Shear modulus (GPa)

The shear modulus of a material is a measure of how difficult it is to deform a material, and is given by the ratio of the shear stress to the shear strain.

Bulk modulus (GPa)

The bulk modulus is a measure of how difficult to compress a substance. Given by the ratio of the pressure on a body to the fractional decrease in volume.

Vapour Pressure (Pa)

Vapour pressure is the measure of the propensity of a substance to evaporate. It is defined as the equilibrium pressure exerted by the gas produced above a substance in a closed system.

Pressure and temperature data – advanced

Specific heat capacity
(J kg-1 K-1)
298 Young's modulus (GPa) Unknown
Shear modulus (GPa) Unknown Bulk modulus (GPa) Unknown
Vapour pressure  
Temperature (K)
400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 2200 2400
Pressure (Pa)
- - - 6.66
x 10-11
x 10-7
x 10-4
x 10-2
0.32 4.27 35.9 -
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In 1787, Karl Arrhenius came across an unusual black rock in an old quarry at Ytterby, near Stockholm. He thought he had found a new tungsten mineral, and passed the specimen over to Johan Gadolin based in Finland. In 1794, Gadolin announced that it contained a new 'earth' which made up 38 per cent of its weight. It was called an’ earth’ because it was yttrium oxide, Y2O3, which could not be reduced further by heating with charcoal.

The metal itself was first isolated in 1828 by Friedrich Wöhler and made by reacting yttrium chloride with potassium. Yet, yttrium was still hiding other elements.

In 1843, Carl Mosander investigated yttrium oxide more thoroughly and found that it consisted of three oxides: yttrium oxide, which was white; terbium oxide, which was yellow; and erbium oxide, which was rose-coloured.

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Listen to Yttrium Podcast
Transcript :

Chemistry in its element - yttrium


You're listening to Chemistry in its element brought to you by Chemistry World, the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry 

(End promo) 

Meera Senthilingam 

This week, the last of the elements discovered in the small town of Ytterby and its compounds appear to have a multitude of uses. 

Simon Cotton 

Y. This is not a question. Y is the symbol for the element Yttrium 

Until about 20 years ago, most scientists had not heard of it, other than vaguely noting where it was in the Periodic Table, under scandium and above lanthanum. Some people might just have known that it was one of 4 chemical elements named after the small Swedish town of Ytterby, along with ytterbium, erbium and terbium. 

Then in 1986 two scientists working at IBM in Zurich, Georg Bednorz and Karl Müller, found that lanthanum barium copper oxide became superconducting at what was then almost a record high temperature, 35 degrees above absolute zero. In other words, below minus 238°C the compound's electrical resistance disappeared. 

Bednorz and Müller won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1987 for this discovery. Prompting other scientists to dust off their Periodic Tables, and try switching the lanthanum portion for other similar metals. Two American professors, Maw-Kuen Wu and Paul Chu, together with their research groups at the University's of Alabama and Houston, studied yttrium barium copper oxide. It has the formulaYBa2Cu3O7 and is often called YBCO for short. They found that it became superconducting 95 degrees below absolute zero (-178 ºC).

 This may not seem much of a temperature difference, but it meant that YBCO could be kept in the superconducting state using liquid nitrogen, rather than the much more expensive liquid helium. This has inspired lots more studies over the past 20 years. The ultimate objective, the Holy Grail, is to find a material that would superconduct at room temperature, but no one has got there yet. 

There are many possible applications for YBCO; for example MRI scanners could be made to operate more cheaply at a higher temperature using liquid nitrogen coolant. At present, though, there are technical problems preventing these commercial applications. One is that in order to superconduct at 95K, the YBCO has to be slightly oxygen-deficient, to have just a bit less than the seven oxygen atoms per yttrium atom. The exact amount is crucial, and tricky to achieve. 

Other problems include making the YBCO in the right state; a lot of research is going into making thin films of it and finding a way of making it into a continuous wire, rather than just an assembly of crystals packed together that are unable to conduct decent currents. Investigators are looking into depositing YBCO on top of flexible metal wires, and research into this continues. 

Apart from this, there are lots of everyday applications for yttrium compounds In its compounds yttrium is always present as the yttrium three plus ion, which means that it is colourless and has no unpaired electrons; therefore it does not have any interesting magnetic or spectroscopic properties of its own. The up side of this is that yttrium compounds make very good host materials for other lanthanides. 

The most familiar application lies in the red phosphor in cathode ray tubes, as used in traditional colour TV sets. This is made of yttrium oxysulphide, Y2O2S containing a small amount of trivalent europium ions. Similarly, yttrium hosts are often used to accommodate terbium ions, which are green phosphors. Such materials are used in the "cool white" fluorescent lamps. 

Yttrium aluminium garnet, also known as YAG, is a very important synthetic mineral. It is used to make hard, artificial diamonds, which sparkle just like the real ones. What is more, by introducing small quantities of lanthanide ions, materials with a range of useful properties can be made. Introduce a small amount of cerium for example, and you have a good yellow phosphor. Or add 1 % of neodymium to YAG and you get the most widely used solid-state laser material. And erbium gives you an infrared laser. 

Yttrium also finds use in fuel cells for powering cars and buses, computers and digital phones and, potentially, buildings. A small amount of yttrium oxide is added to zirconium oxide to make what is known as yttria-stabilized zirconia (also called YSZ). That has the unusual property of conducting oxide ions, making it very useful in these fuel cells. YSZ is also used to make the lambda sensors fitted to the exhaust sytem of your car. These monitor the amount of oxygen in the exhaust gases and sends feedback to give the best air-fuel mixture into the engine. 

So, that is yttrium for you. Colourless, unspectacular, but undoubtedly fulfilling a lot of important supporting roles. 

Meera Senthilingam 

And so the Oscar for best supporting role goes to, you guessed it, Yttrium. That was Uppingham School's Simon Cotton with the multiple roles and uses of Yttrium. Now next week we've got an element that could take us into another dimension. 

Hayley Birch 

In 1949, Milton Smith published a short work of fiction that he entitled The Mystery of Element 117. The real element 117 is yet to be discovered - it's a blank space in the Periodic Table just below the halogens. Smith's 117, however, was a strange material that could be used to open a window to another dimension. He called it a magnetic monopole substance - one that instead of having poles, plural, like an ordinary magnet, had a pole. Singular. Now, whilst no reputable scientist would argue that a magnetic monopole could open an inter-dimensional portal, its existence isn't outside the realms of possibility and if recent reports are anything to go by, it could depend on an otherwise mundane metallic element that you can find skulking around near the bottom of the Periodic Table - holmium. 

Meera Senthilingam 

And Hayley Birch will be revealing the truth about such mythical monopoles in next week's Chemistry in its Element. Until then, I'm Meera Senthilingam and thank you for listening. 


Chemistry in its element is brought to you by the Royal Society of Chemistry and produced by thenakedscientists dot com. There's more information and other episodes of Chemistry in its element on our website at chemistryworld dot org forward slash elements. 

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Images:  Visual Elements © Murray Robertson 2011
Mining and Sourcing data:  British Geological Survey – natural environment research council.
Text:  John Emsley Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2011.
Additional information for platinum, gold, neodymium and dysprosium obtained from Material Value Consultancy Ltd
Data: CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, CRC Press, 92nd Edition, 2011.
G. W. C. Kaye and T. H. Laby Tables of Physical and Chemical Constants, Longman, 16th Edition, 1995.
Members of the RSC can access these books through our library.