Elemental: Germanium

Our guide to the periodic table examines the element named after Germany: Deutschlandium

By Howard Swains, 16 December 2011

Image for Germanium

Symbol: Ge (for Germanium)

Atomic number: 32

Discovered: The magnificently-bearded Dmitri Mendeleev predicted its existence in 1869, but it was the magnificently-monikered Clemens Winkler who actually isolated it in 1886 and named it after his favourite flower, the geranium home country, Germany. (He also invented the three-way stop-cock. #unknowngenius.)

What it looks like: Shiny and silvery, like coal wrapped in tin foil. Also exists in tiny shiny crystals that look like Monopoly figures.

What it does: It's a semi-conductor, which makes it useful in electronics and solar technology. Indeed, germanium was the go-to element for the early years of semi-conductor technology - at least until silicon took over.

What it's used for: Loads of stuff, but usually in combination with something else. It's in fibre optics and is used in chemotherapy, so if you've used a computer or want to recover from cancer, spare some gratitude for germanium.

You might not know, but: Germanium "is created through stellar nucleosynthesis, mostly by the s-process in asymptotic giant branch stars." Nope, me neither.

In addition: Its oxide activity is described as "feebly basic". It is not ideal if a girlfriend describes your bedroom technique as reminding her of germanium.

The first working transistor

A replica of the first working transistor. Take a bow, germanium.


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