Anders Gustav Ekeberg was born January 16, 1767, in Stockholm, Sweden. The majority of his career at Uppsala University, Sweden, was devoted to the analysis of minerals, particularly those found at the Ytterby feldspar quarry outside Stockholm, Sweden, and the copper mines at Falun, Sweden.
Ekeberg was the first person to confirm Johan Gadolin’s discovery of yttrium oxide, the first known rare earth metal compound. Ekeberg’s most important contribution to chemistry was the discovery of another mineral with a new, unknown element: Tantalum. Ekeberg found that tantalum oxide is insoluble in acid. This led him to name it after the Greek mythological character Tantalus as “the oxide of this metal was incapable of feeding itself even in the middle of a surplus of acid”.
Ekeberg’s priority in the discovery tantalum was called into question when it was realized that it was remarkably similar to an element reported a year earlier, columbium. It took 40 years before it was proven that these were two different elements. By this time Ekeberg had succumbed to the ill health that had plagued him all his life. He died at the early age of 46 on February 11, 1813, after a long battle with tuberculosis and never knowing that he would be remembered as the undisputed discoverer of one of today’s most important metals.
Over 60 % of tantalum is used for electonic components, particularly in capacitors for mobile phones and instruments for controlling ships and aircraft. It is also used in superalloys with nickel and cobalt for aircraft engines and other high-temperature applications, as well as for liners for chemical reactors and for corrosion and heat-resistant equipment due to its resistance to chemical attack.
Anders Ekeberg is the answer to Guess the Chemist 14, which gave details about Ekeberg’s life.
In Encyclopedia of the Elements: Technical Data – History – Processing – Applications,
Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, Germany, 2007.
- The discovery of the elements. VII. Columbium, tantalum, and vanadium,
Mary Elvira Weeks,
J. Chem. Educ. 1932, 9(5), 863–884.
This and other scientific milestones can be found in:
- Meilensteine der Chemie 2013,
Horst Remane and Wolfgang Girnus,
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2013, 61(1), 11–22.