23 Dec 2019

Zirconium - shape-shifting time capsule

From Elemental, 8:00 am on 23 December 2019

Zirconium is a metal that is a shape-shifting tough cookie.

It is found in gemstones – think zircons and cubic zirconia, often known as ‘fake diamond.’ Zirconia is nearly as hard as diamond and it is a refractory material that is pretty impervious to heat and pressure.

Zircons are tiny geological time capsules containing trace amounts of uranium and thorium that geologists can use to work out how old they are.

Zirconium alloyed with tin is used in nuclear reactors as it doesn’t corrode and isn’t itself radioactive, says Professor Allan Blackman from the Auckland University of Technology, in episode 96 of Elemental.

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Photo: RNZ

You can subscribe to the Elemental podcast for free, at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic and iHeartRADIO or on your favourite podcast app.

The Elemental podcast is celebrating 150 years since the periodic table was first published by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

This is the final episode in the Elemental podcast series –if you missed any episodes or want to listen again, the elements are easy to find as they are listed alphabetically.

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.