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Uncovering the Fascinating Properties and Uses of Tellurium

Tellurium: A Fascinating Element with Intriguing Properties

Tellurium is a fascinating element with intriguing properties. It is classified as a metalloid, meaning it has some characteristics of both metals and non-metals. In this article, we will explore tellurium in-depth, looking at its properties, occurrence, production, discovery, and atomic data. By the end of the article, you will have a firm understanding of this element and its role in our world.

Definition and Properties

Tellurium is a chemical element with the symbol Te and atomic number 52. It has a relatively high atomic mass of 127.60 g/mol.

At room temperature, tellurium is a silvery-white metalloid with a brittle texture. It has a metallic luster and is slightly denser than lead.

Tellurium is a semiconductor, meaning it can conduct electricity under certain conditions. One of the most interesting properties of tellurium is its ability to exhibit a phenomenon called the photoconductivity effect.

When exposed to light, tellurium becomes a more efficient conductor of electricity than when it is in the dark. This phenomenon makes tellurium useful in devices such as photovoltaic cells, where it can convert light into electrical energy.

Occurrence and Production

Tellurium is a rare element that occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust in very small amounts. It is usually found in association with other metals such as gold, silver, and copper.

The largest natural sources of tellurium are the anode mud produced during the electrolytic refining of copper and the slimes produced during the electrolytic refining of lead. Most of the tellurium used today is produced as a byproduct of copper mining and refining.

The anode mud produced during the refining process contains up to 8% tellurium. To extract the tellurium, the anode mud is treated with sulfuric acid, which dissolves the copper and leaves the tellurium behind.

The tellurium is then purified through a series of chemical and physical processes to produce high-purity tellurium.

Discovery and Origin of Name

Tellurium was first discovered in 1782 by Austrian scientist Franz Joseph Muller. However, it was not until 1798 that German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth was able to isolate the element in its pure form.

Klaproth named the element tellurium after the Latin word for Earth, tellus, because the element was found in a silver ore from the mines of Transylvania.

Properties and Characteristics of Tellurium

In addition to its physical properties, tellurium also has some unique atomic properties. It has eight natural isotopes, ranging in atomic mass from 120 to 130.

Tellurium-128 is the most abundant isotope, making up over 31% of naturally occurring tellurium. Its electron configuration is [Kr]4d105s25p4, meaning it has five valence electrons.

Tellurium has some interesting chemical properties as well. It is a moderately reactive element and will react with most nonmetals at high temperatures.

It can also form compounds with metals such as gold and silver to create tellurides. Tellurium dioxide (TeO2) is a white crystalline solid that is used in the production of glass and ceramics.

Sodium tellurite (Na2TeO3) is a reducing agent that is used in the textile and leather industries.

Uses of Tellurium

Tellurium is a fascinating element that has a broad range of applications in several industries. This metalloid has unique electronic and chemical properties that make it an indispensable component for many products and processes.

Addition to Alloys and Batteries

Tellurium is used as an alloying element to increase the strength and resistance of several metals. When added to copper, it enhances the metal’s thermal conductivity, making it ideal for use in electrical wiring.

Additionally, tellurium can improve the properties of lead by making it more resistant to acid corrosion. An alloy of lead and tellurium is used in automotive batteries due to its high conductivity and long life.

Colored Glass, Ceramics, and Rubber

Tellurium oxide is an excellent coloring agent for glass, ceramics, and rubber. It gives a range of hues from pale yellow to green and can be used in combination with other oxides to achieve specific colorations.

In the glass industry, tellurium oxide is used to produce optical lenses and filters, color filters for LCD displays, and semiconductor materials. In ceramics, it is used as a fluxing agent to lower the solidification temperature of glaze.

Catalyst for Petroleum Refining

Tellurium can be used as a catalyst in the refining of petroleum products. It is particularly useful in hydrotreating, a process that removes impurities such as sulfur and nitrogen compounds from crude oil.

Tellurium’s effectiveness as a catalyst is due to its ability to activate hydrogen and form stable hydrogen bonds with other compounds. This results in a highly efficient process that reduces the emission of greenhouse gas and other pollutants from refineries.

Use in Solar Panels and Semiconductor Applications

Tellurium’s unique electrical and optical properties make it a valuable component in the production of solar panels and semiconductor applications. In solar panels, it is used to produce thin films of cadmium telluride that convert sunlight into electricity.

These panels are highly efficient and cost-effective, making them an attractive alternative to traditional solar cells made from silicon. Tellurium is also used in the production of transistors and diodes in semiconductor devices.


Tellurium is generally considered to be a relatively non-toxic element. While exposure to tellurium in large amounts can be harmful, it is a rare occurrence given its low abundance in nature.

The primary health effects of tellurium poisoning include skin irritation, respiratory problems, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Ingestion of tellurium compounds can result in toxic effects on the liver, kidneys, and other organs.

However, such incidents are seldom recorded.

Occupational Exposure

There are some concerns about the effects of occupational exposure to tellurium in various industries. Workers in copper refining and metal smelting industries are at higher risk of tellurium exposure.

Prolonged exposure to tellurium can cause chronic respiratory inflammation, bronchitis, and bronchopneumonia, among other health risks. However, the likelihood of such exposure is low, and appropriate protective measures can significantly minimize the risk.

Interesting Facts about Tellurium

Tellurium is a unique element with several interesting and intriguing characteristics. In this article expansion, we will explore some of these interesting facts, including the corrosive nature of molten tellurium, its image representation and name origin, and its use in the Hubble Space Telescope.

We will also discuss the cost of tellurium and its price on the market.

Corrosive Nature of Molten Tellurium

Molten tellurium has a highly corrosive nature, which makes it a challenging substance to handle. When exposed to metals such as iron or steel, molten tellurium undergoes a chemical reaction that produces tellurides, which can lead to serious corrosion.

This property makes it crucial to use protective coatings and materials during the handling and transportation of molten tellurium.

Image Representation and Name Origin

In mythology, Tellus was the Roman goddess of the earth, and the element tellurium was named for her image representation. Initially, tellurium’s name was given in Latin, as Tellus was its Roman counterpart for the Greek goddess Gaia.

The discovery of tellurium was an exciting time in the scientific community, and several scientists have contributed to our understanding of this element.

Use in the Hubble Space Telescope

Tellurium plays a vital role in the Hubble Space Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS). The NICMOS module uses tellurium as a photosensitive surface on its detector, allowing it to capture images of celestial bodies even in low-light conditions.

Together with other elements, tellurium makes up several important cosmic elements that are essential to the creation of the universe.

Cost of Tellurium

Tellurium is a rare element, which is an essential factor in considering its cost. As a result, its selling price is significantly higher than most other elements.

Although tellurium has a wide range of applications in various industries worldwide, it still remains relatively scarce. Therefore, the cost of tellurium presents an obstacle for its broad application in various industries.

The cost of tellurium varies from year to year and is primarily based on the demand-supply equation, being affected by various factors such as economic conditions and mining.


In conclusion, tellurium is a fascinating element that plays a critical role in several applications, including space technology and everyday industrial processes. While the corrosive nature of molten tellurium can be a challenge to handle, it is fascinating to note that tellurium’s name comes from the Roman goddess of the earth’s name.

The use of tellurium in the Hubble Space Telescope illustrates further the versatile and vital role it plays in our modern-day world. Despite its rarity, the cost of tellurium limits its broader application.

However, the unique properties of tellurium are sure to provide further exciting research and innovative solutions as scientists continue to explore its unlimited potential. The article covered various aspects of Tellurium, including its definition, properties, occurrence, production, discovery, isotopes, and atomic data, as well as its uses in alloys, batteries, colored glass, hydrotreating, solar panels, and semiconductor applications.

Additionally, it delved into its rare toxicity and the cost of Tellurium. An important takeaway is that Tellurium is a valuable resource that has a range of versatile applications in several industries, including space technology.

Despite its rarity and unique properties, it remains a critical component in the development of cutting-edge products and processes.


  1. What is Tellurium used for?

    Tellurium is used in alloys, batteries, colored glass, hydrotreating, solar panels, and semiconductor applications.

  2. Is Tellurium toxic?

    Tellurium is considered relatively non-toxic, and incidents of toxicity are rare. However, prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory inflammation, bronchitis, and bronchopneumonia.

  3. Where is Tellurium found in nature?

    Tellurium is a rare element that occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust and is usually found in association with other metals such as gold, silver, and copper.

  4. What is the cost of Tellurium?

    The cost of Tellurium varies depending on factors such as supply and demand, mining activities, and economic conditions, but it is generally high due to its scarcity.

  5. What is the significance of Tellurium in the Hubble Space Telescope?

    Tellurium is a vital component in the Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) of the Hubble Space Telescope. The NICMOS module uses tellurium as a photosensitive surface enabling it to capture images of celestial bodies even in low-light conditions.

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