Tantalum is almost always found in association with niobium, which is why tantalum is named after Tantalus, the father of Niobe.
Tantalus was condemned to eternal hunger and thirst by the Greek Gods, even when he was surrounded by fruit and water. The discoverer of tantalum thought it was a fitting name as the element, “when placed in the midst of acids, is incapable of taking them up and saturating itself with them.”
Tantalum has the third highest melting point of all metals, which is why it was used as an early incandescent bulb filament.
The metal is inert to bodily fluids and well tolerated by our bodies, hence its use in surgical instruments and implants, says Professor Allan Blackman from the Auckland University of Technology, in episode 80 of Elemental.
The Elemental podcast is celebrating 150 years since the periodic table was first published by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.
Find out more about events during the United Nation’s International Year of the Periodic Table.
Professor Allan Blackman is at Auckland University of Technology.