Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran, a French chemist, isolated the element samarium from the mineral samarskite in 1879. Samarium has a bright silver lustre and is reasonably stable in air but will ignite at 150°C. Even in long-term storage under mineral oil, samarium gradually oxidizes, forming a grayish-yellow powder of oxides and hydroxides. The metallic appearance of a sample can be preserved by sealing it under an inert gas such as argon.
Samarium is primarily obtained through solvent extraction processes of both light and heavy rare earth minerals.
Applications of Samarium:
- Magnets and Electronics: Samarium alloys are used in making samarium-cobalt permanent magnets that have a high resistance to demagnetization, when compared to other permanent magnet materials. These magnet’s high working temperatures make them irreplaceable in high temperature environments found in some hybrid electric automobiles. Samarium-cobalt magnets are also used in high-end magnetic pickups for guitars and related electronic musical instruments, headphone magnets and automotive accessories where light weight low energy consumption, and physical size are important considerations.
- Medicine: Samarium-153, a radioisotope of samarium, is used in medicine to treat the severe pain associated with cancers that have spread into bone tissues. The drug is called ‘Quadramet.’
- Other uses: Samarium compounds act as sensitizers for phosphors excited in the infrared and samarium oxide is added to glass to absorb infrared radiation. Samarium oxide is also a catalyst for the dehydration and dehydrogenation of ethanol, and as a chemical reagent in organic synthesis.