Some elements exist in several different structural forms, called allotropes. Each allotrope has different physical properties.

For more information on the Visual Elements image see the Uses and properties section below.



A vertical column in the periodic table. Members of a group typically have similar properties and electron configurations in their outer shell.

A horizontal row in the periodic table. The atomic number of each element increases by one, reading from left to right.

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 (s), principal (p), diffuse (d), and fundamental (f).

Atomic number
The number of protons in an atom.

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

Melting point
The temperature at which the solid–liquid phase change occurs.

Boiling point
The temperature at which the liquid–gas phase change occurs.

The transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through a liquid phase.

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.

Atoms of the same element with different numbers of 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.

Fact box

Group Melting point 1287°C, 2349°F, 1560 K 
Period Boiling point 2468°C, 4474°F, 2741 K 
Block Density (g cm−3) 1.85 
Atomic number Relative atomic mass 9.012  
State at 20°C Solid  Key isotopes 9Be 
Electron configuration [He] 2s2  CAS number 7440-41-7 
ChemSpider ID 4573986 ChemSpider is a free chemical structure database


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.


The description of the element in its natural form.

Biological role

The role of the element in humans, animals and plants.

Natural abundance

Where the element is most commonly found in nature, and how it is sourced commercially.

Uses and properties

Image explanation
Beryllium is used in gears and cogs particularly in the aviation industry.
Beryllium is a silvery-white metal. It is relatively soft and has a low density.
Beryllium is used in alloys with copper or nickel to make gyroscopes, springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes and non-sparking tools. Mixing beryllium with these metals increases their electrical and thermal conductivity.

Other beryllium alloys are used as structural materials for high-speed aircraft, missiles, spacecraft and communication satellites.

Beryllium is relatively transparent to X-rays so ultra-thin beryllium foil is finding use in X-ray lithography. Beryllium is also used in nuclear reactors as a reflector or moderator of neutrons.

The oxide has a very high melting point making it useful in nuclear work as well as having ceramic applications.
Biological role
Beryllium and its compounds are toxic and carcinogenic. If beryllium dust or fumes are inhaled, it can lead to an incurable inflammation of the lungs called berylliosis.
Natural abundance
Beryllium is found in about 30 different mineral species. The most important are beryl (beryllium aluminium silicate) and bertrandite (beryllium silicate). Emerald and aquamarine are precious forms of beryl.

The metal is usually prepared by reducing beryllium fluoride with magnesium metal.
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The gemstones beryl and emerald are both forms of beryllium aluminium silicate, Be3Al2(SiO3)6. The French mineralogist Abbé René-Just Haüy thought they might harbour a new element, and he asked Nicholas Louis Vauquelin, to analyse them and he realised they harboured a new metal and he investigated it. In February 1798 Vauquelin announced his discovery at the French Academy and named the element glaucinium (Greek glykys = sweet) because its compounds tasted sweet. Others preferred the name beryllium, based on the gemstone, and this is now the official name.

Beryllium metal was isolated in 1828 by Friedrich Wöhler at Berlin and independently by Antoine-Alexandere-Brutus Bussy at Paris, both of whom extracted it from beryllium chloride (BeCl2) by reacting this with potassium.

Atomic radius, non-bonded
Half of the distance between two unbonded atoms of the same element when the electrostatic forces are balanced. These values were determined using several different methods.

Covalent radius
Half of the distance between two atoms within a single covalent bond. Values are given for typical oxidation number and coordination.

Electron affinity
The energy released when an electron is added to the neutral atom and a negative ion is formed.

Electronegativity (Pauling scale)
The tendency of an atom to attract electrons towards itself, expressed on a relative scale.

First ionisation energy
The minimum energy required to remove an electron from a neutral atom in its ground state.

Atomic data

Atomic radius, non-bonded (Å) 1.53 Covalent radius (Å) 0.99
Electron affinity (kJ mol−1) Not stable Electronegativity
(Pauling scale)
Ionisation energies
(kJ mol−1)


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. Uncombined elements have an oxidation state of 0. The sum of the oxidation states within a compound or ion must equal the overall charge.


Atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons.

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

Oxidation states and isotopes

Common oxidation states 2
Isotopes Isotope Atomic mass Natural abundance (%) Half life Mode of decay
  9Be 9.012 100


Data for this section been provided by the British Geological Survey.

Relative supply risk

An integrated supply risk index from 1 (very low risk) to 10 (very high risk). This is calculated by combining the scores for crustal abundance, reserve distribution, production concentration, substitutability, recycling rate and political stability scores.

Crustal abundance (ppm)

The number of atoms of the element per 1 million atoms of the Earth’s crust.

Recycling rate

The percentage of a commodity which is recycled. A higher recycling rate may reduce risk to supply.


The availability of suitable substitutes for a given commodity.
High = substitution not possible or very difficult.
Medium = substitution is possible but there may be an economic and/or performance impact
Low = substitution is possible with little or no economic and/or performance impact

Production concentration

The percentage of an element produced in the top producing country. The higher the value, the larger risk there is to supply.

Reserve distribution

The percentage of the world reserves located in the country with the largest reserves. The higher the value, the larger risk there is to supply.

Political stability of top producer

A percentile rank for the political stability of the top producing country, derived from World Bank governance indicators.

Political stability of top reserve holder

A percentile rank for the political stability of the country with the largest reserves, derived from World Bank governance indicators.

Supply risk

Relative supply risk 8.1
Crustal abundance (ppm) 1.9
Recycling rate (%) <10
Substitutability High
Production concentration (%) 85
Reserve distribution (%) Unknown
Top 3 producers
  • 1) USA
  • 2) China
  • 3) Mozambique
Top 3 reserve holders
  • 1) Unknown (likely USA)
Political stability of top producer 56.6
Political stability of top reserve holder Unknown


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

A measure of the stiffness of a substance. 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

A measure of how difficult it is to deform a material. It is given by the ratio of the shear stress to the shear strain.

Bulk modulus

A measure of how difficult it is to compress a substance. It is given by the ratio of the pressure on a body to the fractional decrease in volume.

Vapour pressure

A 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)
1825 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)
- - 3.04
x 10-10
x 10-6
0.00314 0.312 9.12 113 - - -
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Listen to Beryllium Podcast
Transcript :

Chemistry in its element: beryllium


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

(End promo)

Chris Smith

Hello, this week to the element that the Big Bang forgot but which has bounced back as the stuff that the world's best springs are made from. It's also given us gorgeous gemstones, spark proof tools for the oil industry and a deadly lung condition.

Richard Van Noorden

Only hydrogen, helium and lithium were formed during the Big Bang itself. The next element, beryllium, is relatively rare in the universe because it is also not formed in the nuclear furnaces of stars. It takes a supernova, in which heavier nuclei disintegrate, to make this metal.

Earlier plans to use beryllium on a large scale in the aerospace industries did not materialise even though it lightness and strength made it seem an ideal metal for such purposes. At one time it was even thought that beryllium powder would be used as a fuel for rockets on account of the colossal amount of heat which it releases when it is burnt. Now less than 500 tons of metal are refined each year because it is dangerously toxic.

Beryllium has no known biological role, and its dust causes chronic inflammation of the lungs and shortage of breath. Brief exposure to a lot of beryllium, or long exposure to a little, will bring on this lung condition which is known as berylliosis. The disease may take up to five years to manifest itself and about a third of those who are affected by it die prematurely and the rest are permanently disabled. Workers in industries using beryllium alloys were most at risk, such as those making early types of fluorescent lamps which were coated inside with an oxide film containing beryllium. In 1950 the manufacture of this type of lamp ceased.

The minerals beryl and emerald are beryllium silicates and were known to the ancient world; the emperor Nero used a large emerald the better to view gladiatorial fights in the area. Their beautiful green colour is due to traces of chromium. Analysis of the oxygen in these gems enables their source to be identified because the isotope ratio of oxygen-18 to oxygen-16 varies according to where the mineral is found. The Romans got their emeralds mainly from Austria, although some came from as far away as Pakistan. More surprising was the discovery that the Mogul rulers of India got some of theirs from Colombia in South America probably via trade across the Pacific. The chief ores of beryllium are beryl and bertrandite, which is also a silicate. Sometimes truly enormous crystals of bertranide turn up, one specimen found in Maine in the USA was over 5 metres in length and weighed almost 20 tonnes.

That beryl and emerald might harbour a new element was suspected by the 18th century and Nicholas Louis Vauquelin analysed them, and on 15 February 1798 he announced that they contained a new element - but he was unable to separated it from its oxide. Beryllium metal was isolated in 1828 from beryllium chloride (BeCl2) by reacting this with potassium.

Beryllium was to play a historic role in advancing our knowledge of atomic theory since it helped uncover the fundamental particle, the neutron. This was discovered in 1932 by James Chadwick who bombarded a sample of beryllium with the alpha-rays (which are helium nuclei) emanating from radium. He observed that it then emitted a new kind of subatomic particle which had mass but no charge. The combination of radium and beryllium is still used to generate neutrons for research purposes, although a million alpha-particles only manage to produce 30 neutrons.

Beryllium is a silvery-white, lustrous, relatively soft metal of group 2 of the periodic table. The metal is unaffected by air or water, even at red heat. When copper and nickel are alloyed with beryllium they not only become much better at conducting electricity and heat, but they display remarkable elasticity. For this reason their alloys make good springs and the copper alloy is used to make spark-proof tools, which are the only ones allowed in sensitive areas such as oil refineries.

Beryllium has but a single isotope, beryllium-9 which is not radioactive but beryllium-10, which cosmic rays produce in the upper atmosphere, is radioactive with a half-life of 1.5 million years. Radioactive beryllium-10 has been detected in Greenland ice cores and marine sediments and the amount that has been measured in ice cores deposited over the past 200 years increases and decreases in line with the Sun's activity, as shown by the frequency of sun-spots. The amount of this isotope in marine sediments laid down in the last ice age was 25% higher than that in post-glacial deposits. That tells us that the Earth's magnetic field was much weaker then than it is now.

Chris Smith

Richard Van Noorden with the story of Beryllium. Next time we're telling the tale of a pair of twins that can make a glass blower's life a lot safer.

Andrea Sella

One day, as he stood at his lathe with an orange inferno raging before him I asked him about the glasses he was wearing. "Didymium" he answered cryptically, and then noticing my blank look, he added "Cuts out the light. Try them." He passed me his specs, the lenses of a curious greeny-grey colour. I slipped them on and suddenly the flame was gone. All I could see was a red-hot piece of spinning glass unobscured by the glare. I gawped in wonder until Geoff pulled the specs off my face saying "Give 'em back ya fool" and went back to his work.

Chris Smith

And you can catch up on the story of Didymium and its mysterious light controlling chemistry with Andrea Sella on next week's Chemistry in its Element, I do hope you can join us. I'm Chris Smith, thank you for listening and goodbye.


Chemistry in its element is brought to you by the Royal Society of Chemistry and produced by There's more information and other episodes of Chemistry in its element on our website at

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Visual Elements images and videos
© Murray Robertson 1998-2017.



W. M. Haynes, ed., CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, CRC Press/Taylor and Francis, Boca Raton, FL, 95th Edition, Internet Version 2015, accessed December 2014.
Tables of Physical & Chemical Constants, Kaye & Laby Online, 16th edition, 1995. Version 1.0 (2005), accessed December 2014.
J. S. Coursey, D. J. Schwab, J. J. Tsai, and R. A. Dragoset, Atomic Weights and Isotopic Compositions (version 4.1), 2015, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, accessed November 2016.
T. L. Cottrell, The Strengths of Chemical Bonds, Butterworth, London, 1954.


Uses and properties

John Emsley, Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, New York, 2nd Edition, 2011.
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility - Office of Science Education, It’s Elemental - The Periodic Table of Elements, accessed December 2014.
Periodic Table of Videos, accessed December 2014.


Supply risk data

Derived in part from material provided by the British Geological Survey © NERC.


History text

Elements 1-112, 114, 116 and 117 © John Emsley 2012. Elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 © Royal Society of Chemistry 2017.



Produced by The Naked Scientists.


Periodic Table of Videos

Created by video journalist Brady Haran working with chemists at The University of Nottingham.