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 Lanthanides  Melting point 824°C, 1515°F, 1097 K 
Period Boiling point 1196°C, 2185°F, 1469 K 
Block Density (g cm−3) 6.90 
Atomic number 70  Relative atomic mass 173.045  
State at 20°C Solid  Key isotopes 172Yb, 173Yb, 174Yb 
Electron configuration [Xe] 4f146s2  CAS number 7440-64-4 
ChemSpider ID 22428 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
The image is based on ancient Swedish rock carvings.
A soft, silvery metal. It slowly oxidises in air, forming a protective surface layer.
Ytterbium is beginning to find a variety of uses, such as in memory devices and tuneable lasers. It can also be used as an industrial catalyst and is increasingly being used to replace other catalysts considered to be too toxic and polluting.
Biological role
Ytterbium has no known biological role. It has low toxicity.
Natural abundance
In common with many lanthanide elements, ytterbium is found principally in the mineral monazite. It can be extracted by ion exchange and solvent extraction.
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Ytterbium was isolated in 1878 by Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac at the University of Geneva. The story began with yttrium, discovered in 1794, which was contaminated with other rare-earth elements (aka lanthanoids). In 1843, erbium and terbium were extracted from it, and then in 1878, de Marignac separated ytterbium from erbium. He heated erbium nitrate until it decomposed and then extracted the residue with water and obtained two oxides: a red one which was erbium oxide, and a white one which he knew must be a new element, and this he named ytterbium. Even this was eventually shown to contain another rare earth, lutetium, in 1907.

A tiny amount of ytterbium metal was made in 1937 by heating ytterbium chloride and potassium together but was impure. Only in 1953 was a pure sample obtained.

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) 2.26 Covalent radius (Å) 1.78
Electron affinity (kJ mol−1) -1.93 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 3, 2
Isotopes Isotope Atomic mass Natural abundance (%) Half life Mode of decay
  168Yb 167.934 0.12
  170Yb 169.935 2.98
  171Yb 170.936 14.09
  172Yb 171.936 21.68
  173Yb 172.938 16.10
  174Yb 173.939 32.03
  176Yb 175.943 13.00 1026 β-β- 


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 9.5
Crustal abundance (ppm) 0.3
Recycling rate (%) <10
Substitutability High
Production concentration (%) 97
Reserve distribution (%) 50
Top 3 producers
  • 1) China
  • 2) Russia
  • 3) Malaysia
Top 3 reserve holders
  • 1) China
  • 2) CIS Countries (inc. Russia)
  • 3) USA
Political stability of top producer 24.1
Political stability of top reserve holder 24.1


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)
155 Young's modulus (GPa) 23.9
Shear modulus (GPa) 9.9 Bulk modulus (GPa) 30.5
Vapour pressure  
Temperature (K)
400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 2200 2400
Pressure (Pa)
x 10-9
0.00384 6.74 - - - - - - - -
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Listen to Ytterbium Podcast
Transcript :

Chemistry in its element: ytterbium


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 an element that likes to be different. Explaining the exceptional chemistry of Ytterbium, here's Louise Natrajan.

Louise Natrajan

There is a famous quote about the lanthanides by Pimentel and Sprately from their book, Understanding Chemistry published in 1971: "Lanthanum has only one important oxidation state in aqueous solution, the +3 state. With few exceptions, this tells the whole boring story about the other 14 elements"

If you've listened to any of the other podcasts in the lanthanide series, I hope you'll agree that this is far from true. While, the most common oxidation state of the lanthanides is indeed the +3 valence state, ytterbium, the last and smallest of the lanthanides or rare earths in the series is one of the exceptions Pimentel and Sprately were talking about. Ytterbium can also exist in the +2 valence state; its compounds are powerful reducing agents and it is capable of reducing water to hydrogen gas.

Ytterbium is named after the town of Ytterby near Stockholm in Sweden, and makes up the fourth element to be named after this town, the others being of course yttrium, terbium and erbium. Ytterbium was isolated in 1878 by Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac who was a Swiss chemist working at the University of Geneva at the time. Its discovery can be traced back to the oxide yttria. When yttria was first identified, nobody realised that it was contaminated with traces of other rare earth metals. Earlier, in 1843, erbium and terbium were extracted from yttria and then ytterbium was separated from erbium. This was achieved by heating erbium nitrate until it decomposed and then extracting the residue with water to obtain two oxides; a red one, which was identified as erbium oxide and a white powder, which was named ytterbium oxide. In fact, Marignac's ytterbium oxide was not of a pure form either and a few years later in 1907, George Urbain extracted lutetium as its oxide from this ytterbium oxide.

Ytterbium is one of the more common lanthanide elements, and is not at all rare as its group name of the rare earths may suggest. In fact, it is the 43rd most abundant element on earth and has a greater natural abundance than tin, bromine, uranium or arsenic. In its metallic form, ytterbium is a bright and shiny metal that is both ductile and malleable and is more reactive than the other lanthanide metals, quickly tarnishing in air as it reacts with oxygen. Seven naturally occurring isotopes of ytterbium are known ranging from mass numbers 168 to 176. In addition, ten radioactive isotopes are also known; these isotopes are unstable and break down into other isotopes giving out radiation in the process. Ytterbium-169 in particular emits gamma rays. Gamma rays are similar to X-rays in that they pass through soft materials and tissues but are blocked by more dense materials such as bone. In this regard, small amounts of Yb-169 have been exploited in portable X-ray machines that require no electricity and are much easier to carry around than conventional X-ray machines-useful for radiography of small objects!

A second intriguing possibility is the use of elemental ytterbium is in super accurate atomic clocks. The isotope Yb-174 has the potential to keep time more accurately than the current gold standard, which is a caesium fountain clock that is accurate to within a second every 100 million years. Then no one will have any excuse for being late!

As with all the lanthanides, ytterbium exists in the majority of its compounds as the trivalent ion Yb3+. The only ytterbium compound of historical commercial use is ytterbium oxide (Yb2O3); this is used to make alloys and special types of glass and ceramics. However, more recently, some materials doped with ytterbium and erbium can be used to convert invisible infra red light into green and/or red light from the erbium ions; the ytterbium acts cooperatively with the erbium ions and effectively talks to or 'sentitises' the emission from the Er ion. These special materials or phosphors are being devised as alternatives to europium and terbium phosphors in anti forgery security inks and in bank notes. Instead of placing the bank note under UV light to see the security encoding, an infra red laser pen is used to reveal the luminescence colours of erbium, clever hey?

Terbium compounds are currently used as luminescent probes in biological and biomedical research, but they emit visible light. In the research community, luminescent ytterbium compounds that give out light in the near infra red (around 980 nm) are of current interest and are being developed for use as alternative luminescent probes. This means, that unlike Eu or Tb, which emit visible light, the light is in invisible to our eyes. Human tissue is a lot more transparent to near infra red radiation than to visible light, which means that imaging with near infra red would access greater tissue depths and so give us more detailed information regarding a specific biological event or process.

Ytterbium is also used in some laser systems and ytterbium fibre laser amplifiers are found in commercial and industrial applications where they are used in marking and engraving. Ytterbium compounds are capable of absorbing light in the near infra red part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which has been exploited to convert radiant energy into electrical energy in devices coupled to solar cells. Additionally, ytterbium compounds are often more potent catalysts than their lanthanide counterparts. They are useful for many organic transformations and are finding increasing use in the chemical industry.

Well, that was ytterbium, definitely an interesting and fascinating element with many uses as diverse as atomic clocks and solar cells and definitely different from the other lanthanides.

Meera Senthilingam

Different indeed with that range of uses. That was Manchester University's Louise Natrajan with the unique chemistry of ytterbium. Now next week, we've got an explosive element and I'll give one you guess as to who it's named after.

Brian Clegg

When the bomb exploded on November the first, 1952, it produced an explosion with the power of over 10 million tonnes of TNT - five hundred times the destructive power of the Nagasaki explosion. This was very much a test device - weighing over 80 tons and requiring a structure around 50 feet high to support it, meaning that it could never have been deployed - but it proved, all too well, the capability of the thermonuclear weapon. And in the moments of that intense explosion it produced a brand new element. There among the ash and charred remains of coral were found a couple of hundred atoms of element 99, later to be called einsteinium.

Meera Senthilingam

Brian Clegg will be providing more insight into the reactions and naming of einsteinium 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 There's more information and other episodes of Chemistry in its element on our website at

(End promo)
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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.