In chemistry, the element magnesium is represented with atomic symbol Mg. It belongs to Group 2 of the periodic table and is classified as an alkaline earth metal. It is widely available in nature and is ranked seventh among the most abundant elements on the surface of the Earth. However, due to its high reactivity, it cannot be found in its elemental form. There are at least 60 minerals on the Earth's crust that contain magnesium. Some common ores with high magnesium content are dolomite, magnesite, and carnallite. Magnesium is also found in sea water in dissolved state and can be isolated from it.
Important Facts about the Element Magnesium
Magnesium got its name from the word 'Magnesia' which is the name of a district in Thessaly, Greece, where its ore magnetite was first found. This chemical element was recognized by Joseph Black, in England, in 1755. Later on, it was prepared in laboratory by Sir Humphry Davy in 1808. He obtained the element by electrolysis of magnesia and mercuric oxide. Today, magnesium is extracted in the form of salt by electrolysis of sea water. A few more facts about this element are given below:
In its purest form, magnesium can be identified as a soft, silvery-white solid material. However, when exposed to air, it gets tarnished very easily. The surface of freshly extracted magnesium is often coated with a thin layer of magnesium oxide in order to prevent this kind of tarnishing. The coating is not easily permeable and helps to maintain magnesium in its pure form. Even though it is light in weight, it is basically a strong metal.
The atomic number of magnesium is 12 and has just two electron in its outermost orbit. This makes it a highly reactive metallic element. At room temperature, this element reacts with water, and hydrogen gas is released in the process. On reaction with acids, like hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, etc., it releases a large amount of heat energy. Elemental magnesium is an inflammable substance. It readily catches fire when in powdered form, but it's not the case when it is in bulk amount. It is combustible in nitrogen as well as carbon dioxide present in the air. When it burns in air, it gives a magnificent white light.
Magnesium is the third most widely used structural metal after steel and aluminum, and has major applications in construction. It is widely used in the manufacturing of aluminum-magnesium alloy called 'magnelium' or 'magnalium'. As it has a lesser density than aluminum, it gives the alloy both lightness as well as strength. This alloy is required for manufacturing aircraft and automobile parts.
Magnesium is also used as an additive in other aluminum alloys which are used for making beverage cans, bicycle frames, car seats, etc., in order to improve fabrication and welding characteristics of aluminum. Magnesium is used in various electronic devices mainly because it has good electrical and mechanical properties and is light in weight. It is used in cell phones, cameras, computers, and so on. As it burns in air with a brilliant white flame, it is used for preparing fireworks, marine flares, and photographic flashbulbs to produce bright lights.
Magnesium compounds have white crystalline form. They readily dissolve in water and the solution thus obtained is sour in taste due to formation of magnesium ions. Many of these compounds have medicinal values and are used as laxatives and antacids. Magnesium hydroxide is a component of milk of magnesia, which is an antacid. Magnesium sulfate heptahydrate, commonly known as Epsom salt acts as a laxative. Compounds like magnesium citrate and magnesium chloride are used as nutritional supplements. These supplements have amazing therapeutic values and is used to treat magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium and Life
Magnesium is an important element for all living cells. In human body, almost fifty percent of total magnesium is present in bones. The remaining part is found mostly in cells of various tissues and organs. It makes our bones strong and helps the muscles and nerves of our body to function normally. Magnesium is required for as many as 300 biochemical reactions. It plays a key role in controlling the functions of several types of enzymes present in our body.
Magnesium is useful for plant life as well. It is a major constituent of chlorophyll molecule, that helps the plants to prepare food with the help of photosynthesis. For this reason, magnesium compounds are used as fertilizers and are often added to magnesium-deficient soil.
Basically, the element magnesium is not toxic in nature. The problem with this element is that it tends to catch fire very easily. Therefore, it should be handled and stored with great care. While storing, it should be kept in airtight containers and make sure it is not exposed to any acidic substances. It should always be kept away from the reach of small children.