Characteristics of fluorine
Fluorine is the element of the periodic table of symbol F and atomic number 9. This means that its nucleus is formed by 9 protons (apart from neutrons) with 9 electrons orbiting them. At room temperature, fluorine is found in the form of pale yellow gas. Below -188ºC fluorine converts to its liquid state, and below -219ºC is found in its solid form.
Fluorine is a highly reactive element, and it forms very strong bonds with other elements. It is an element that is very toxic and corrosive. Many metals, glass, ceramics, carbon and even water burn, with a bright flame, in presence of pressurised fluorine.
On the Earth, fluorine is the thirteenth most common element, and it is found in about 600 ppm (parts per million) on the Earth’s crust. Fluorine in its elementary state reacts quickly with the present vapours in the atmosphere, for which its existence in its elementary form is almost non-existent. In nature, the biggest fluorine source is various minerals, such as fluorite, cryolite, and fluorapatite.
Uses of the elemental
- Fluorine is used to manufacture chemicals such as fungicides or herbicides.
- Fluorine-19, which is a stable isotope of this element, is used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- This element is also used in the manufacturing of various pharmaceutical drugs, like Lipitor, which reduces cholesterol, or in diverse antibiotics.
- Fluorine and some of its compounds are also used in uranium refinement.
- This element is used in many processes to reduce the melting point of many metals.
- The presence of fluorine (in very small quantities) in water helps prevent tooth decay.
The high reactivity and the corrosive nature of fluorine led to a delay in the discovery and isolation of the latter as a new element. Many of the first experiments with fluorine caused health hazards to scientists. However, in 1810, André-Marie Ampère proposed that the unknown substance in hydrofluoric acid was a new element similar to chlorine. Later, the chemist Humphry Davy named it fluorine, which comes from the Latin word “fluo”, meaning flux, and the suffix “ine” used for all halogens.
It wasn’t until 1886 that fluorine was isolated for the first time. It was the French chemist Ferdinand Frederic that accomplished it, through the electrolysis of potassium fluoride and hydrofluoric acid. In 1906 this scientist received the Nobel prize for the manufacturing of the machine, made from platinum in its totality, that was able to isolate fluorine.