[He] 2s2
2, 2
1287°C, 2349°F, 1560 K
2468°C, 4474°F, 2741 K
Nicholas Louis Vauquelin
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Uses and Properties

Image Explanation

The James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror is one of its most critical components. The primary mirror consists of 18 hexagonal mirror segments made from beryllium. Beryllium was chosen for the mirror segments because it is lightweight, strong, and can maintain its shape at the extremely cold temperatures experienced in space.


Beryllium is a silvery-white metal. It is relatively soft and has a low density.


Beryllium: The Unseen Hero in Modern Innovation

Beryllium, a lightweight and versatile element found in the periodic table, may not be a household name, but its incredible properties have propelled it into the heart of numerous cutting-edge industries. With its exceptional strength, heat resistance, and electrical conductivity, beryllium plays a pivotal role in fields ranging from aerospace and telecommunications to medical equipment and nuclear technology. In this article, we will explore the remarkable uses of beryllium and its significant impact on modern innovation.

1. Aerospace Advancements

In the aerospace industry, where performance and safety are paramount, beryllium's unique characteristics shine. Its high strength-to-weight ratio makes it an ideal choice for critical components in spacecraft, satellites, and aircraft. Beryllium's exceptional stiffness and thermal stability ensure that it can withstand the extreme conditions of space, including rapid temperature fluctuations and exposure to cosmic radiation.

One of the most prominent applications of beryllium in aerospace is in lightweight satellite components, such as mirrors and supporting structures. Beryllium mirrors are highly valued in space telescopes and earth observation satellites due to their ability to provide precise and distortion-free imaging of distant objects.

2. Nuclear Technology

In the realm of nuclear technology, beryllium is an essential element in the production of neutron sources. Beryllium is highly effective at moderating and reflecting neutrons, a property crucial in nuclear reactors and advanced research facilities. It is used as a neutron reflector in nuclear weapons, research reactors, and nuclear fusion experiments.

Additionally, beryllium's ability to absorb neutrons makes it an essential component in nuclear fuel assemblies, where it enhances the safety and efficiency of nuclear reactors by reducing the risk of overheating.

3. Telecommunications and Electronics

Beryllium's outstanding electrical conductivity, coupled with its ability to dissipate heat efficiently, makes it an excellent choice for components in the telecommunications and electronics industry. One of its primary applications is in the creation of beryllium copper alloys, which combine the electrical conductivity of copper with the strength and heat resistance of beryllium.

Beryllium copper is used in various electronic connectors, switches, and other components where low electrical resistance and resistance to wear and corrosion are essential. Its unique combination of properties makes it invaluable for ensuring reliable connections and extending the lifespan of electronic devices.

4. Medical Equipment

The medical industry relies on beryllium for several applications, most notably in X-ray tubes. Beryllium windows on these tubes allow X-rays to pass through while maintaining a vacuum seal. These windows are crucial for medical imaging, including radiography and computed tomography (CT) scans, enabling physicians to diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions.

Furthermore, beryllium alloys are used in the manufacturing of surgical instruments and dental equipment due to their biocompatibility, corrosion resistance, and high strength. This ensures the reliability and safety of medical procedures.

5. Aerospace and Defense

In addition to its use in civilian aerospace, beryllium plays a critical role in the defense sector. Beryllium-based materials are employed in components of missiles, guidance systems, and high-speed aircraft. Its lightweight yet robust nature is essential for ensuring the success and reliability of defense technology.

Moreover, beryllium's unique properties make it an ideal choice for applications where precision, stability, and resistance to extreme conditions are paramount. These qualities are particularly valuable in the development of guidance and navigation systems for military and defense purposes.

6. Telecommunications

The telecommunications industry benefits greatly from beryllium, particularly in the form of beryllium-based optical components. Beryllium's low thermal expansion and exceptional stiffness make it an ideal material for optical instruments, such as high-end camera lenses and eyepieces.

Beryllium mirrors are also used in high-performance laser systems, where their ability to dissipate heat rapidly prevents distortion and enhances the efficiency of lasers used in telecommunications, laser cutting, and materials processing.

7. Research and Development

Beryllium is a staple in research and development laboratories across the world. Its superior thermal conductivity and stability make it an excellent choice for scientific instruments that operate under extreme conditions. Scientists rely on beryllium-based components in high-energy particle accelerators, synchrotrons, and X-ray spectroscopy equipment to conduct groundbreaking research in physics, chemistry, and materials science.

Additionally, beryllium is an integral component in various scientific detectors used to study subatomic particles and explore the fundamental laws of the universe. Its exceptional properties ensure accurate and precise measurements, advancing our understanding of the natural world.

8. Aerospace Exploration

The aerospace sector continually pushes the boundaries of human exploration, and beryllium is at the forefront of this endeavor. Beryllium's lightweight and robust characteristics are essential in spacecraft and space exploration equipment. It is used in critical components such as telescope structures, satellite mirrors, and other instruments that must endure the harsh conditions of outer space.

Moreover, beryllium's exceptional resistance to extreme temperatures is particularly valuable in the development of heat shields for spacecraft reentry. These shields are crucial for protecting astronauts and payloads during their return to Earth, and beryllium ensures their reliability.


Beryllium, with its remarkable properties and diverse applications, plays an indispensable role in the advancement of modern innovation. From its use in aerospace and defense to telecommunications, nuclear technology, and medical equipment, beryllium's unique combination of strength, lightweight, thermal stability, and electrical conductivity makes it an elemental hero in a wide range of industries.

As technology and research continue to evolve, the importance of beryllium in facilitating progress, enabling precision, and expanding the frontiers of knowledge cannot be overstated. Its presence is not always visible, but its impact on our world is undeniable, making beryllium a hidden hero in the tapestry of modern innovation and discovery.


Beryllium, the discreet yet indispensable element, has played a remarkable but often overlooked role in the annals of human progress. Although it might not be a household name like gold or iron, Beryllium has quietly found its way into various aspects of our lives, from aerospace and nuclear technology to telecommunications and healthcare. In this journey through time, we will delve into the intriguing history of Beryllium and discover how its unique properties have shaped our modern world.

The Discovery of Beryllium

Beryllium's history begins with its discovery in 1798 by French chemist Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin. Vauquelin isolated Beryllium from beryl, a mineral that had been known for centuries for its ornamental value. He named the element "Beryllium" after the mineral from which he extracted it.

For many years, Beryllium remained a curiosity of the scientific community due to its rarity and the difficulty in isolating it in pure form. It wasn't until the late 19th century that advances in metallurgy and mining techniques made it more accessible.

Beryllium in Aerospace and Nuclear Technology

Beryllium's low density, exceptional strength, and thermal stability make it a prized material in aerospace applications. During World War II, Beryllium gained prominence as it was used in the production of specialized alloys for aircraft and other military hardware. The high-strength Beryllium-copper alloy found use in aircraft brakes, anti-corrosion coatings, and even gyroscopes.

In the post-war years, Beryllium's unique properties became indispensable in the burgeoning field of nuclear technology. Beryllium was used as a neutron reflector in early nuclear reactors, enhancing their efficiency and enabling the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

However, it was in the field of nuclear weapons where Beryllium played a particularly significant role. The element was utilized in the development of the first hydrogen bombs, colloquially known as "thermonuclear" or "H-bombs." Beryllium's ability to reflect neutrons helped trigger the fusion reaction, unleashing an immense amount of energy.

Beryllium in Telecommunications

Beryllium's low atomic number and excellent electrical conductivity make it ideal for use in telecommunications technology. In the mid-20th century, Beryllium-copper alloys were employed in the construction of antennas, connectors, and other components for radar systems, satellites, and early microwave communication devices. Its properties facilitated the transmission of high-frequency signals without significant loss, thus improving the efficiency of telecommunications systems.

Beryllium in Healthcare and Scientific Research


Beryllium has also found its way into the realm of healthcare and scientific research. Its unique properties, such as its ability to scatter X-rays, have made it invaluable in the development of X-ray windows, tubes, and detectors. These innovations have been pivotal in the fields of medical imaging, non-destructive testing, and materials science.

Moreover, Beryllium is used in nuclear medicine. Beryllium-7, a radioactive isotope of Beryllium, is employed as a neutron source for various applications, including the calibration of neutron detectors and the treatment of certain medical conditions.

Challenges and Concerns

Despite its many advantages, Beryllium poses certain health risks. Beryllium dust or fumes can be highly toxic when inhaled, potentially leading to chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a debilitating lung condition. Due to these health hazards, strict safety precautions are essential when working with Beryllium-containing materials.

Additionally, Beryllium mining and processing can have environmental implications, and the recycling of Beryllium-containing materials is critical to mitigate resource depletion.

Beryllium's history is a testament to its adaptability and versatility in a wide range of applications, from aerospace and nuclear technology to telecommunications and healthcare. Its unique properties have contributed significantly to human progress and technological advancements, often operating silently behind the scenes.

As we move forward into an era of rapid technological innovation and scientific discovery, Beryllium will likely continue to play a vital role. It reminds us that even the less celebrated elements on the periodic table can have a profound impact on our world when harnessed responsibly and with an understanding of the potential challenges they pose.

Atomic Data

Atomic Radiues, Non-bonded (A): 1.53
Electron Affinity (kJ mol-1): Not stable
Covalent Radiues (A): 0.99
Electronegativity (Pauling Scale): 1.57
Ionisation Energies (kJ mol-1) 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
899.504 1757.108 14848.767 21006.658 - - - -

Oxidation States and Isotopes

Common oxidation states 2
Isotope Atomic Mass Natural Abundance Half Life Mode of Decay
6Be 9.012 100 - -

Supply Risk

Relative Supply Risk: 8.1
Crustal Abundance (ppm): 1.9
Recycle Rate (%): <10
Production Conc.(%) : 85
Top 3 Producers:
1) USA
2) China
3) Mozambique
Top 3 Reserve Holders:
1) Unknown (likely USA)
Substitutability: High
Political Stability of Top Producer: 56.6
Political Stability of Top Reserve Holder: Unknown

Pressure and Temperature Data

Specific Heat Capacity: 1825
Shear Modulus: Unknown
Young Modulus: Unknown
Bulk Modulus: Unknown
Pressure 400k Pressure 600k Pressure 800k Pressure 1000k Pressure 1200k Pressure 1400k Pressure 1600k Pressure 1800k Pressure 2000k Pressure 2200k Pressure 2400k
- - 3.04 x 10^-6 4.96 x 10^-10 0.00314 0.312 9.12 113 - - Unknown


From the ancient Greek, Beryllos refer to a mineral composed of Beryllium Aluminium Silicate. It referred to a precious blue green color of sea water stone and it served as the root for the word Beryllium.

Among the lightest alkaline-earth metals, Beryllium is a brittle, steel-gray element. Although a number of workers in the United States have been exposed to airborne beryllium, little is known about the health effects of the element. Beryllium gets ingested or inhaled by many individuals. In the workplace, the principal route of exposure is through the lung. This route damages the mucosal lining and is extremely toxic. Symptoms include pulmonary pneumonia and chronic beryllium disease, or, CBD. Acute Beryllium Disease, also known as acute beryllium pneumonitis, is a disease that may affect the lungs, nose, throat, and windpipe. It typically occurs in persons who have been exposed to high levels of soluble beryllium. Its duration is about one year. Chronic Beryllium Disease, or chronic beryllium pneumonitis, begins after prolonged exposure and is characterized by granulomas in the lungs. The process of its development is not completely known. Educating workers about the hazards of beryllium exposure can help reduce the risk of CBD.

IARC, or the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified beryllium as a group 1 carcinogen in 1994. Its designation was reaffirmed in 2009.

During the early years of US nuclear weapons production, dozens of workers developed a disease dubbed, Acute Beryllium Disease. This disease, like many, was expensive to treat, but the US government started to pay for its treatment by reimbursing workers for its costs. During the Manhattan Project, the US government began funding a program of research on beryllium. This, was focused on the element would eventually result in a number of studies on the potential health effects on people. The Atomic Energy Commission, AEC, developed a standard for exposure to beryllium and adopted it in its facilities. The AEC incorporated adherence to the beryllium exposure limit in its contracts with manufacturers. In the early 1970s, peak beryllium concentrations were observed in the northeastern part of the United States. Radiation levels were found to be much greater in facilities that were not under the supervision of the Nuclear Weapons Authority. However, the total number of industrial processes with beryllium exposure has increased over the past two decades.

The first pure beryllium was discovered by French chemist Antoine Bussy in 1828, and the element was subsequently isolated by German chemist Friederich Wohler. The element is also known for its bivalent nature, and is soluble in water below pH 5.5.

Beryllium is a rare element that is found in extremely small amounts throughout the earth's crust. When it comes to beryllium production, the US dominates globally. As much as we know, in 2010, 85% of the beryllium produced worldwide, came from Spor Mountain, in Utah. But we cannot underestimate several other important producing countries of beryllium such as Brazil, Czech Republic, China and Germany.

Among the alkaline earth metals, Beryllium has a lot of properties that are unique to it. The main difference resides on its higher melting point and additionally, its coefficients of thermal expansion is rather low. Because of this, it may be used in electrical devices. The combination of its moderate boiling point with great toughness makes it a promising material as a hardening agent for alloys.

Beryllium-containing alloys are used in oil and gas equipment, telecommunications infrastructure, and automotive electronics.

The metal itself is used in nuclear fusion technology. It finds applications in many consumer goods, from cellular phones to PCs. It's also a common lubricant in hydroelectric equipment. Both the aerospace and electronics industries make use of beryllium. It is useful as a radiation filter and is implied in windows for X-ray tubes.

It is used in aircraft braking systems, computer parts, and inertial guidance systems. In addition to that, it may function as a neutrons input. Enrico Fermi used beryllium as a neutron source in 1942. It has potential for use in power reactors. This is because it has a very small cross-section for thermal neutrons.

During the Cold War, beryllium was an important component in military defense weapons. It was also crucial to the production of neon bulbs. Since then, several industries have benefited from its utilization.

Applications of beryllium include fire control systems, high technology ceramics, radar electronic countermeasures, electric insulators, rocket nozzles, crucibles, and more. It is commonly mixed with base metals such as aluminum and copper to improve the properties of these materials.

The concrete strength utilization of beryllium is only one of the many ways in which this versatile metal is put to good use. It has excellent strength and resistance to vibrations.


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  • John Emsley, Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, Oxford University Press, New York, 2nd Edition, 2011.