One of the most reactive elements in the periodic table is fluorine. Despite its explosive properties, it is an essential element for humans, which is why it can be found in everyday items like drinking water, and toothpaste. But did you know, even if we do encounter fluorine every day, it is actually a rare element?
Fluorine is the 24th most abundant element in the universe. This makes it relatively rare compared to other elements, mainly because it is not a product of nuclear fusion.
How Was Fluorine Discovered?
The word fluorine was derived from the Latin word fluere which means to flow. For centuries, the mineral fluorspar was used in refining metal, and this particular compound allowed metals to flow. According to the Jefferson Laboratory, it was also referred to as the Bohemian emerald and was used in glass etching.
Many scientists attempted to experiment with fluorspar in order to understand its properties better. During the course of this experimentation, they were able to produce fluoric acid, which is incredibly reactive. Even small splashes of this acid can be damaging.
Chemists tried to isolate fluorine from various fluorides, but it was not until 1896 when Karl O. Christie, a German chemist, successfully synthesized fluorine. One thing you would need to know is that fluorine does not occur freely in nature. However, in 2012, scientists were able to isolate trace amounts of the element trapped in antozonite. The fluorine found there was labeled as radioactive fluorite.
In the 19ths century, scientists Andre-Marie Ampere and Humphry Davy wrote about the possibility of a new element within the fluoric acid. By 1813, Davy announced the discovery of the new element from Ampere’s suggestion.
In 1886, Henri Moissan, a French chemist, finally isolated fluorine even after being poisoned several times in the process. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1906 for isolating fluorine by electrolysis of dry potassium hydrogen fluoride and dry hydrofluoric acid. (Source: Live Science)
How Can Fluorine Be Utilized?
According to the Royal Society, fluorine salts and various fluorides have been used in welding and frosting glass. It is also an essential part of the nuclear energy industry. Fluorine is used to make uranium hexafluoride which is needed in order to separate uranium isotopes. Sulfur hexafluoride, on the other hand, is a gas used to insulate transformers carrying high-power electricity.
Before the ban, Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs were commonly found in refrigerators, air conditioners, styrofoam packaging, fire extinguishers, and even aerosol sprays. The ban on CFCs was due to their contribution to ozone depletion.
Prior to 2009, CFCs were even found in inhalers to control asthma, and they were phased out by 2013 as they proved to do more harm than good. It is also found in high-temperature plastics like Teflon and cable insulation.
Today, fluorine is widely used in city water supplies. It is added to the water to help prevent tooth decay. The same theory applies as to why fluoride is added to toothpaste. (Source: Live Science)