Alkaline Earth Metals (Encyclopedia of Science)
The elements that make up Group 2 of the periodic table are commonly called the alkaline earth metals. They include beryllium, magnesium, calcium, strontium, barium, and radium. All of these elements contain two electrons in the outermost energy level of their atoms, and they tend to have similar chemical and physical properties. Their properties can also be compared to those of the alkali metals, which lie next to them on the periodic table. They are shiny, relatively soft, and white or silvery in color.
Like the alkali metals, the alkaline earth metals react with acids and water to produce hydrogen gas. These reactions, however, are less intense than are those with the alkali metals. Alkaline earth metals also react vigorously with oxygen. Magnesium burns so actively in air, for example, that it is often used in flares because of the brilliant white light it produces during combustion.
Flame tests can be used to identify compounds of the alkaline earth metals. The characteristic colors of these elements are orangish-red for calcium, crimson for strontium, and apple-green for barium. The brilliant colors produced in fireworks displays are often produced by compounds of strontium and barium.
Beryllium ranks number 50 in abundance among the chemical elements. Interestingly enough, it occurs most commonly in...
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Alkaline Earth Metals (World of Earth Science)
On the Periodic table, Group 2 (IIA) consists of beryllium, magnesium, calcium, strontium, barium, and radium. This family of elements is known as the alkaline earth metals, or just the alkaline earths. Although early chemists gave the name "earths" to a group of naturally occurring substances that were unaffected by heat and insoluble in water, the alkaline earth metals are also usually found in the continental crust. In contrast, Group 1 compounds and ions tend to concentrate in the ocean.
Calcium carbonate is geologically evident as limestone, marble, coral, pearls, and chalkll derived mainly from the shells of small marine animals. The weathering of calcium silicate rocks over millions of years converted the insoluble calcium silicate into soluble calcium salts, which were carried to the oceans. The dissolved calcium was used by marine organisms to form their shells. When the organisms died, the shells were deposited on the ocean floor where they were eventually compressed into sedimentary rock. Collisions of tectonic plates eventually allow this rock to rise above the ocean floor to become "land-based" limestone deposits.
Caverns throughout the world are formed by the action of atmospheric carbonic acid (water plus carbon dioxide) on limestone to form the more soluble calcium bicarbonate. When the solution of calcium bicarbonate reaches the open cavern and the water evaporates, carbon dioxide is released and calcium carbonate remains. The calcium carbonate is deposited as stalagmites if the drops hit the ground before evaporating, or as stalactites if the water evaporates while the drop hangs from above.
Other minerals of alkaline earth metals are beryllium aluminum silicate (beryl), calcium magnesium silicate (asbestos), potassium magnesium chloride (carnallite), calcium magnesium carbonate (dolomite), magnesium sulfate (epsomite), magnesium carbonate (magnesite), hydrogen magnesium silicate (talc), calcium fluoride (fluorspar), calcium fluorophosphate (fluorapatite), calcium sulfate (gypsum), strontium sulfate (celestite), strontium carbonate (strontianite), barium sulfate (barite), and barium carbonate (witherite). Radium compounds occur in pitchblende, which is primarily uranium oxide, because radium is a product of the radioactive disintegration of U-238. Most pitchblende in the United States is found in Colorado.
The alkaline earth metals, like the alkali metals, are too reactive to be found in nature except as their compounds; the two valence electrons completing an s-subshell are readily lost, and ions with +2 charges are formed. The alkaline earth metals all have a silver luster when their surfaces are freshly cut, but, except for beryllium, they tarnish rapidly. Like most metals, they are good conductors of electricity.
Only magnesium and calcium are abundant in Earth's crust. Magnesium is found in seawater and as the mineral carnallite, a combination of potassium chloride and magnesium chloride. Calcium carbonate exists as whole mountain ranges of chalk, limestone, and marble. Its most abundant mineral is feldspar, which accounts for two-thirds of the earth's crust. Beryllium is found as the mineral beryl, a beryllium aluminum silicate. With a chromium-ion impurity, beryl is known as emerald. If iron ions are present, the gemstone is blue-green and known as aquamarine.
Beryllium is lightweight and as strong as steel. It is hard enough to scratch glass. Beryllium is used for windows in xray apparatus and in other nuclear applications, allowing the rays to pass through with minimum absorption.
Because beryllium is rather brittle, it is often combined with other metals in alloys. Beryllium-copper alloys have unusually high tensile strength and resilience, which makes them ideal for use in springs and in the delicate parts of many instruments. The alloy does not spark, and so finds use in tools employed in fire-hazard areas. Because beryllium-nickel alloys resist corrosion by salt water, they are used in marine engine parts.
Magnesium, alone or in alloys, replaces aluminum in many construction applications because the supply of this metal from seawater is virtually unlimited. Magnesium is soft and can be machined, cast, and rolled. Magnesium-aluminum alloys (trade name Dowmetal) are often used in airplane construction.
Magnesium hydroxide is used as milk of magnesia for upset stomachs. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. Soapstone, a form of talc, is used for laboratory table tops and laundry tubs. Magnesium oxide is used for lining furnaces.
Slaked lime, or calcium hydroxide, is the principal ingredient in plaster and mortar, in which the calcium hydroxide is gradually converted to calcium carbonate by reaction with the carbon dioxide in the air. Slaked lime is an important flux in the reduction of iron in blast furnaces. It is also used as a mild germ-killing agent in buildings that house poultry and farm animals, in the manufacture of cement and sodium carbonate, for neutralizing acid soil, and in the manufacture of glass.
Calcium carbide, made by reacting calcium oxide with carbon in the form of coke, is the starting material for the production of acetylene. Calcium propionate is added to foods to inhibit mold growth. Calcium carbonate and calcium pyrophosphate are ingredients in toothpaste.
Plaster of Paris is 2CaSO42O, which forms CaSO4H2O (gypsum), as it sets. Gypsum is used to make wallboard, or sheet rock. Asbestoso longer used as a building material in the United States because of concerns that exposure to asbestos fibers can cause cancers a naturally occurring mineral, a calcium magnesium silicate. Calcium and magnesium chlorides, byproducts of sodium chloride purification, are used in the de-icing of roads. Calcium chloride absorbs water from the air, so is used in the prevention of dust on roads, coal, and tennis courts and as a drying agent in the laboratory.
Florapatite, a calcium fluorophosphate, is an important starting material in the production of phosphoric acid, which, in turn, is used to manufacture fertilizers and detergents. The mines in Florida account for about one-third of the world's supply of this phosphate rock. Fluorspar, or calcium fluoride, is used as a flux in the manufacture of steel. It is also used to make hydrofluoric acid, which is then used to make fluorocarbons such as Teflon.
Calcium is involved in the function of nerves and in blood coagulation. Muscle contraction is regulated by the entry or release of calcium ions by the cell. Calcium phosphate is a component of bones and teeth. Hydroxyapatite, calcium hydroxyphosphate, is the main component of tooth enamel. Cavities are formed when acids decompose this apatite coating. Adding fluoride to the diet converts the hydroxyapatite to a more acid-resistant coating, fluorapatite or calcium fluorophosphate. Magnesium is the metal ion in chlorophyll, the substance in plants that initiates the photosynthesis process in which water and carbon dioxide are converted to sugars. Calcium ions are needed in plants for cell division and cell walls. Calcium pectinate is essential in holding plant cells together. Calcium and magnesium ions are required by living systems, but the other Group 2 elements are generally toxic.
The word barium comes from the Greek barys, meaning heavy. Barium salts are opaque to x rays, and so a slurry of barium sulfate is ingested in order to outline the stomach and intestines in x-ray diagnosis of those organs. Although barium ions are poisonous, the very low solubility of barium sulfate keeps the concentration low enough to avoid damage.
Both barium and strontium oxides are used to coat the filaments of vacuum tubes, which are still used in some applications. Because these elements act to remove traces of oxygen and nitrogen, a single layer of barium or strontium atoms on a filament may increase the efficiency more than a hundred million times.
Radium is a source of radioactive rays traditionally used in cancer treatment, though other radioactive isotopes are now more commonly used. A radioactive isotope of strontium, strontium-90, is a component of nuclear fallout.
The alkaline earths and their compounds burn with distinctive colors. The green of barium, the red of strontium, and the bright white of magnesium are familiar in fireworks. Strontium is also used in arc lamps to produce a bright red light for highway flares.
See also Chemical bonds and physical properties; Chemical elements; Geochemistry; Stalactites and stalagmites