From New World Encyclopedia
57 bariumlanthanumcerium


periodic table
Name, Symbol, Number lanthanum, La, 57
Chemical series lanthanides
Group, Period, Block 3, 6, f
Appearance silvery white
Atomic mass 138.90547(7) g/mol
Electron configuration [Xe] 5d1 6s2
Electrons per shell 2, 8, 18, 18, 9, 2
Physical properties
Phase solid
Density (near r.t.) 6.162 g/cm³
Liquid density at m.p. 5.94 g/cm³
Melting point 1193 K
(920 °C, 1688 °F)
Boiling point 3737 K
(3464 °C, 6267 °F)
Heat of fusion 6.20 kJ/mol
Heat of vaporization 402.1 kJ/mol
Heat capacity (25 °C) 27.11 J/(mol·K)
Vapor pressure (extrapolated)
P/Pa 1 10 100 1 k 10 k 100 k
at T/K 2005 2208 2458 2772 3178 3726
Atomic properties
Crystal structure hexagonal
Oxidation states 3
(strongly basic oxide)
Electronegativity 1.10 (Pauling scale)
Ionization energies
1st: 538.1 kJ/mol
2nd: 1067 kJ/mol
3rd: 1850.3 kJ/mol
Atomic radius 195 pm
Covalent radius 169 pm
Magnetic ordering ?
Electrical resistivity (r.t.) (α, poly) 615 nΩ·m
Thermal conductivity (300 K) 13.4 W/(m·K)
Thermal expansion (r.t.) (α, poly)
12.1 µm/(m·K)
Speed of sound (thin rod) (20 °C) 2475 m/s
Speed of sound (thin rod) (r.t.) (α form) 36.6 m/s
Shear modulus (α form) 14.3 GPa
Bulk modulus (α form) 27.9 GPa
Poisson ratio (α form) 0.280
Mohs hardness 2.5
Vickers hardness 491 MPa
Brinell hardness 363 MPa
CAS registry number 7439-91-0
Notable isotopes
Main article: Isotopes of lanthanum
iso NA half-life DM DE (MeV) DP
137La syn 60,000 yrs ε 0.600 137Ba
138La 0.09% 105×109yrs ε 1.737 138Ba
β- 1.044 138Ce
139La 99.91% La is stable with 82 neutrons

Lanthanum (chemical symbol La, atomic number 57) is a soft, silvery white metallic element. Found in combination with other rare earth elements, it is one of the most reactive of the rare earth metals.

Lanthanum, its alloys, and its compounds have a wide range of applications. For instance, the element is used in motion-picture studio illumination that relies on carbon-arc lighting, and it is a substitute for thorium in gas tungsten-arc welding electrodes. It is an important component of mischmetal, a pyrophoric alloy used in lighter flints, and small amounts of this element may be added to steel to improve its malleability, or to molybdenum to decrease its hardness. Lanthanum oxide is useful for special optical glasses, such as camera and telescope lenses and infrared-absorbing glass. The oxide and boride are used in electronic vacuum tubes, and the carbonate has been approved for a medication that absorbs excess phosphate in end-stage cases of kidney failure.



Although lanthanum belongs to a group of chemical elements called the rare earth metals, it is not rare at all. It is available in relatively large quantities—32 parts per million (ppm) in the Earth’s crust.

The principal ores containing lanthanum are monazite ((Ce, La, Th, Nd, Y)PO4) and bastnasite ((Ce, La, Y)CO3F). The proportion of lanthanum in these ores can be as high as 25–38 percent. It usually occurs in combination with cerium and other rare earth elements.

Etymology and history

The word lanthanum comes from the Greek λανθανω [lanthanō], which means "to lie hidden."

Lanthanum was discovered in 1839 by Swedish chemist Carl Gustav Mosander, when he partially decomposed a sample of cerium nitrate by heating and treating the resultant salt with dilute nitric acid. From the resulting solution, he isolated a new rare earth he called lantana. Lanthanum was isolated in relatively pure form in 1923.

Notable characteristics

Lanthanum belongs to period six and group three (former group 3B) of the periodic table. It is often considered the first of the lanthanides, which are a group of "inner transition metals." From the standpoint of their electronic structure, the lanthanides are characterized by the gradual filling of the 4f subshell. Lanthanum, however, has no electrons in its 4f subshell, and it best fits with the elements of group three, corresponding to a group of transition metals.

Lanthanum is malleable, ductile, and soft enough to be cut with a knife. It is one of the most reactive of the rare-earth metals. The metal reacts directly with elemental carbon, nitrogen, boron, selenium, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, and with halogens. It oxidizes rapidly when exposed to air. Cold water attacks lanthanum slowly, while hot water attacks it much more rapidly.


Naturally occurring lanthanum consists of one stable isotope (139La) and one radioactive (138La) isotope, with the stable isotope, 139La, being the most abundant (99.91 percent natural abundance). Many radioisotopes have been characterized with the most stable being 138La with a half-life of 105×109 years, and 137La with a half-life of 60,000 years. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 24 hours and the majority of these have half lives that are less than one minute. The isotopes of lanthanum range in atomic weight from 117 u (117La) to 155 u (155La).


  • Lanthanum is used for carbon-arc lighting applications, especially by the motion picture industry for studio lighting and projection.
  • In gas tungsten-arc welding electrodes, lanthanum is used as a substitute for radioactive thorium.
  • Small amounts of lanthanum added to steel improves its malleability, resistance to impact, and ductility.
  • Small amounts of lanthanum added to iron helps produce nodular cast iron.
  • Small amounts of lanthanum added to molybdenum decreases the hardness of this metal and its sensitivity to temperature variations.
  • Mischmetal, a pyrophoric alloy used, for instance, in lighter flints, contains 25–45 percent lanthanum.
  • Hydrogen sponge alloys may contain lanthanum. These alloys are capable of storing up to 400 times their own volume of hydrogen gas in a reversible adsorption process.
  • Lanthanum oxide (La2O3) improves the alkali resistance of glass, and is used in making special optical glasses, such as:
  • Lanthanum oxide and the boride (LaB6) are used in electronic vacuum tubes as hot cathode materials with strong emissivity of electrons. Crystals of LaB6 are used in high brightness, extended life, thermionic electron emission sources for scanning electron microscopes.
  • Petroleum cracking catalysts.
  • Gas lantern mantles.
  • Glass and lapidary polishing compound.
  • Lanthanum-barium radiometric dating of rocks and ores.
  • Lanthanum carbonate is used medically as a phosphate binder for the treatment of a condition known as hyperphosphatemia. It has been approved as a medication (Fosrenol®, Shire Pharmaceuticals) to absorb excess phosphate in cases of end-stage renal failure.
  • Lanthanum nitrate is used mainly for specialty glasses, water treatment, and catalysis.
  • Cerium-activated lanthanum bromide is the recent inorganic scintillator that has a combination of high light yield and the best energy resolution.
  • Some rare-earth chlorides, such as lanthanum chloride (LaCl3), are known to have anticoagulant properties.

Biological role and precautions

Lanthanum has no known biological role. The element is not absorbed orally, and when injected into experimental animals, its elimination is very slow. It has a low-to-moderate level of toxicity, and should be handled with care. In animals, the injection of lanthanum solutions produces glycemia, low blood pressure, degeneration of the spleen and hepatic alterations.

See also

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chang, Raymond. 2006. Chemistry, ninth ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Science/Engineering/Math. ISBN 0073221031
  • Cotton, F. Albert, and Wilkinson, Geoffrey. 1980. Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, 4th ed. New York, NY: Wiley. ISBN 0-471-02775-8
  • Greenwood, N.N., and Earnshaw, A. 1998. Chemistry of the Elements, 2nd Edition. Oxford, U.K.; Burlington, Massachusetts: Butterworth-Heinemann, Elsevier Science. ISBN 0750633654 Online Version Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  • Lanthanum Los Alamos National Laboratory. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  • Jones, Adrian P., Frances Wall, and C. Terry Williams, eds. 1996. Rare Earth Minerals: Chemistry, Origin and Ore Deposits (The Mineralogical Society Series). London, UK: Chapman and Hall. ISBN 0412610302

External links

All links retrieved October 22, 2022.


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