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What is Cobalt?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Cobalt is a metallic chemical element that is rather hard and brittle in its pure form. It is used industrially in a number of ways, and is also refined to produce salts and isotopes that have other practical applications. In addition to being an important part of many products, cobalt is also a crucial trace element, necessary for human well-being. The grayish, slightly matte element is rarely available in pure form, but it can be found in numerous alloys.

The atomic number of cobalt is 27, and it is identified with the symbol Co on the periodic table of elements. The name for the metal is derived from the German word for “goblin,” a reference to the goblins which supposedly used it to replace valuable silver ores. The element was also considered a goblin because it tended to appear frequently with arsenic, a highly toxic element. When smelted, arsenic fumes would be released, threatening the health of workers.

One of the most well known uses of cobalt is for the blue dye extracted from its salts. This dye has been used for thousands of years, with samples appearing in Egyptian and Greek tombs. The metal itself is often used in alloys to create things like magnets or metals that can withstand high temperatures. These high temperature alloys are used in things like jet engines. In addition, cobalt can be broken down into radioactive isotopes, which have a number of uses in medicine, industry, and research.

Typically, cobalt is found near nickel, lead, copper, and silver ores. The metal appears in the form of an ore, typically heavily blended with other materials, so that it needs to be refined. Like many metals, it has ferromagnetic properties, and it may become spontaneously magnetized or hold a magnetic charge for long periods. This property makes cobalt a popular choice in alloys used to produce rare earth magnets.

As with some other trace elements, cobalt can be dangerous to human health if it is consumed in large amounts. Humans typically get all of the mineral they need by eating a balanced and healthy diet, although some animals may require supplements. In large dosages, cobalt can cause harm to the heart and lungs. The radioactive isotopes, used in a variety of medical treatments, can also be very harmful, and their usage is carefully controlled as a result.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By afterall — On Feb 24, 2011

@stolaf23, cobalt is an essential trace element, and it works along with some other nutrients,like vitamin B12.

By stolaf23 — On Feb 21, 2011

I'm a little confused about whether or not cobalt is actually beneficial in some way, or people just manage to eat trace amounts of it in their diets.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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