Cadmium and its uses.

The Scientific American 12, 18.9.1869

By Prof. C. A. Joy, of Columbia College.

Seven cities dispute the right of having given birth to the immortal Homer, and seven men claim the honor of having discovered cadmium. A learned German has tried to show that Homer was a myth. Cadmium was named after the mythical cadoma, but is, nevertheless, a reality.

It was in 1818, just fifty years ago, that the attention of chemists was called to some samples of zinc that were sold for medicinal purposes; they gave, when in solution, a suspiciously yellow color with sulphureted hydrogen, and hence were condemned as containing arsenic. A number of chemists were furnished with specimens for examination, and several of them got on track of a new metal at the same time.

Frederick Stromeyer, who was born in Gœttingen, in 1778, and was for many years professor of chemistry at the University in his native city, until his death in 1835, was the first to publish a full account of investigations into the properties of the new substance in September, 1818, and he gave to the metal the name of cadmium. Karsten simultaneously proposed to call it melinium, from the quince-yellow color of one of its compounds; Gilbert gave it the name of junonium, from the planet Juno, and John christened it klaprothium, after a famous chemist; but all of these strange appellations, have been eliminated from our nomenclature, and cadmium is the only one recognized in modern times.

The discovery of cadmium forms an era in the line of scientific research. It was the first metal found in a compound and not in an ore, and it could not have been detected until chemical analysis had reached an advanced state of accuracy. Traces of it were soon found in zinc ores, but it was not until after the lapse of twenty years from the time of Stromeyer's publication, that an ore of cadmium was discovered. Lord Greenock, at that time, described a mineral which had been picked up on his estate, and which proved to be a cadmium blonde, analogous to zinc blends, or to galena. The new ore was called greenockite, and since that time it has been found in various localities; it is, however, a very rare mineral.

For commercial purposes, we obtain the metal from zinc ores and furnace deposits. By subjecting zinc to downward distillation, the first portions that come over often contain cadmium. The pure metal is obtained by dissolving the regulus in sulphuric acid, and converting it into a sulphide, by means of sulphureted hydrogen, then redissolving and reprecipitating, by carbonate of ammonia, and reducing with a proper flux. As thus obtained, it is a white, soft, malleable, ductile metal, eight and one half times heavier than water. It leaves a mark upon paper the same as lead, and when bent gives out a creaking sound, similar to that known as the "tin cry." It can be distilled the same as zinc, but unlike zinc, when it is set on fire and burns, it gives a brown oxide. It sometimes happens that zinc white is contaminated by this brown powder and rendered worthless as a paint. Cadmium melts at about 440° Fah., and when alloyed with other metals, causes them to fuse at a lower temperature; a very little of it renders copper very brittle. Seventy-eight parts of cadmium, and twenty-two parts of mercury, was, for a long time, used for plugging teeth, but, as the amalgam oxidizes easily and turns yellow, and the mercury proves injurious to health, this application is pretty much abandoned. Mr. Abel has proposed an alloy for jewelers' use, which is said to be very malleable and ductile, and to possess a fine color. It is composed of 750 parts of gold, 166 parts of silver, and 84 parts of cadmium. We had occasion, when giving an account of the properties of bismuth, to speak of the very fusible alloys composed of bismuth, tin, lead, and cadmium; they melt at a point much lower than cadmium itself.

It is as a yellow paint that cadmium compounds are the most highly prized. By mixing a solution of gum arabic, chloride of cadmium and hyposulphite of soda together, we obtain a fine yellow paint, which is one of the most durable known to artists. There are other ways of making it, and the purity of color depends very much upon the absence of metals that turn black when mixed with sulphur, and the care with which it is dried. The very property that led to the condemnation of zinc-white, and which ultimately brought about its discovery, is the yellow color, now most frequently turned to valuable account.

The keeping properties of the collodion, made sensitive by the iodide and bromide of cadmium, have made these salts great favorites with photographers, and a new use for cadmium has sprung up of late years in this direction.

Manufacturers are getting more into the habit of saving the furnace and flue dust of zinc works, and of separating the cadmium from them, and in this way the supply of the metal is increasing. Salts of cadmium find application in medicine. The sulphate is applied to the eyes to remove specks from the cornea, the nitrate produces violent vomiting and purging, and, in general, when taken internally, the salts can only be employed in very small doses, as recent experiments of Monsieur Marme have shown them to be violent poisons. The best antitode is the carbonate of soda and the white of an egg.

The following mixture burns with a brilliant white flame, surrounded by a magnificent blue border: Salpeter, 20 parts; sulphur, 6 parts; sulphide of cadmium, 4 parts; lamp black, 1 part.

This can be moistened and made up into balls or candles, and ignited after the manner of a fuse.

We have thus given the history and prominent applications of the rare metal, cadmium.

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