Lithium

In 1817, an aging Swedish chemist was pouring over his work on a late afternoon in Stockholm, Sweden. He was analyzing a strange ore named Petalite that had been procured from an island off the coast of Sweden called Utö. The ore Petalite (which is now recognized to be LiAl(Si2O5)2) had been discovered by a Brazilian scientist, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva towards the end of the 18th century on a visit to Sweden. This Swedish scientist, Johann August Arfvedson, detected traces of an unknown substance in his sample of Petalite. This was the first discovery of Lithium.
From the Greek word "lithos" meaning "stone", it was so named due to the fact that it was discovered from a mineral source; whereas the other two common Group 1 elements, Sodium and Potassium, were found in plant sources. Its symbol, Li, was taken directly from its name. Soon after stumbling upon Lithium, Arfvedson also found traces of the metal in the minerals Spodumene and Lepidolite. In 1818, C.G. Gmelin discovered that Lithium salts color flames a bright red. Neither, Gmelin or Arfvedson, however, were able to isolate the element itself from the Lithium salts. They both tried to reduce the oxide by heating it with Iron or Carbon, but neither met with the success of W.T. Brande and Sir Humphrey Davy. They managed to perform the first isolation of elemental Lithium by the electrolysis of Lithium oxide. Electrolysis is a chemical reaction, which is brought about by the passage of current from an external energy source such as a battery. In 1855, the scientists Bunsen and Mattiessen isolated larger quantities of the metal by electrolysis of Lithium chloride.
Each scientist or team of scientists had so much trouble reducing the Lithium compounds because Lithium does not exist in its elemental form in nature. It combines very easily with other elements. Lithium is a soft silvery-white lustrous metal, which can be easily cut with a knife, and it is the lightest of all known metals. It is highly reactive with water and air, and tarnishes readily when exposed to the latter due to a formation of a layer of Lithium suboxide on its surface. Because of its high rate of reaction to air, it must be stored under liquid paraffin, oil, or kerosene, which contain no air, to prevent oxidation. Lithium is detected in its compounds by the characteristic red coloration that it imparts to flames when burned, as Gmelin detected, and by spectroscopic methods.
The element Lithium and its compounds are used in hundreds of different ways. Lithium carbonate has been found highly beneficial to several mental disorders, the most common being manic depressive disorder. It is also used in making very durable glasses and enamels. Lithium hydroxide is used as an absorber of Carbon dioxide in closed environments such as spacecrafts and submarines, as well as a main ingredient in many specialty greases and lubricants due to its high resistance to water and its usefulness at extremely high and low temperatures. Lithium urate is used in the medical treatment of gout, since it is one of the few soluble salts of uric acid. In addition, Lithium is used as an alloy with aluminum, manganese, and cadmium to create high-performance materials for spacecrafts, to manufacture strong railroad car bearings in Europe, as an ingredient in various nuclear applications, to create battery anode material and in dry cell and storage batteries (cell phones, etc), and recent studies have shown that small traces of Lithium are a very important nutrient to the human body. Due to the importance that the metal is kept entirely free of air and water while reduced, packed, shipped, and stored for commercial uses, the element can be significantly expensive.
In the early 1950\'s, when Lithium was first discovered as a method of treatment for patients with mental disorders, doctors started to prescribe very high dosages of the new "wonder" drug, Lithium carbonate. It became evident to the patients, doctors, and public that those patients on Lithium carbonate were experiencing some very serious side effects including vomiting, tremors, drowsiness, excessive urination, abdominal pain, skin eruptions, hallucinations, seizures, and in extreme cases, even a coma. This led to the need for doctors to closely monitor the blood-lithium levels of their patients, but