cobalt, metallic chemical element; symbol Co; at. no. 27; at. wt. 58.9332; m.p. 1,495°C; b.p. about 2,870°C; sp. gr. 8.9 at 20°C; valence +2 or +3. Cobalt is a silver-white, lustrous, hard, brittle metal. It is a member of Group 9 of the periodic table. Like iron, it can be magnetized. It is similar to iron and nickel in its physical properties. The element is active chemically, forming many compounds, e.g., the series of cobaltous and cobaltic salts and the complex cobalt ammines derived from cobaltic salts and ammonia. Cobalt yellow, green, and blue are pigments of high quality that contain cobalt; another blue pigment, smalt, is made by powdering a fused mixture of cobalt oxide, potassium carbonate, and sand; these pigments are often used for coloring glass and ceramics. Cobalt chloride, used as an invisible ink, is almost colorless in dilute solution when applied to paper. Upon heating it undergoes dehydration and turns blue, becoming colorless again when the heat is removed and water is taken up. The element rarely occurs uncombined in nature but is often found in meteoric metal. It is a constituent of the minerals cobaltite and smaltite and of other ores, usually in association with other metals. Pure cobalt metal is prepared by reduction of its compounds by aluminum (the Goldschmidt process), by carbon, or by hydrogen. It is a component of several alloys, including the high-speed steels carboloy and stellite, from which very hard cutting tools are made. It is a component of some stainless steels, and of high-temperature alloys for use in jet engines. Alnico, an alloy of cobalt, aluminum, nickel, and other metals, is used to make high-strength, permanent magnets, but cobalt's most important use, in several forms, is now in cathodes for lithium-ion batteries. As an element in the diet of sheep, cobalt prevents a disease called swayback and improves the quality of the wool. A radioactive isotope, cobalt-60 (with gamma ray emission 25 times that of radium), is prepared by neutron bombardment. It is used for cancer therapy and in industry for detecting flaws in metal parts. See hydrogen bomb. Cobalt was discovered in 1735 by Georg Brandt, a Swedish chemist.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Compounds and Elements