Spedding, Frank H. Formerly, Ames Laboratory, Energy Research and Development Administration, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Last reviewed:January 2020
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A chemical element, La, atomic number 57, atomic weight 138.91. Lanthanum, the second most abundant element in the rare-earth group, is a metal. The naturally occurring element is made up of the isotopes 138La, 0.089%, and 139La, 99.91%. 138La is a radioactive positron emitter with a half-life of 1.1 × 1011 years. The element was discovered in 1839 by C. G. Mosander and occurs associated with other rare earths in monazite, bastnasite, and other minerals. It is one of the radioactive products of the fission of uranium, thorium, or plutonium. Lanthanum is the most basic of the rare earths and can be separated rapidly from other members of the rare-earth series by fractional crystallization. Considerable quantities of it are separated commercially, since it is an important ingredient in glass manufacture. Lanthanum imparts a high refractive index to the glass and is used in the manufacture of expensive lenses. The metal is readily attacked in air and is rapidly converted to a white powder. Lanthanum becomes a superconductor below about 6 K (−449°F) in both the hexagonal and face-centered crystal forms. See also: Rare-earth elements
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