27Co Cobalt

Year Discovered

1735

Discovered By

Georg Brandt of Sweden

Biological Rating

Necessary for all life.

Description

Named from the German word meaning “goblin”, cobalt is a shiny, brittle, bluish-gray metal. It is a hard, stable metal unaffected by air or water and only slowly affected by acid. Cobalt is one of the three ferromagnetic metals, so it is often used in alloys for magnets. When cobalt is alloyed with the other two ferromagnetic elements, iron and nickel, it forms alnico, an alloy of unusual and strong magnetic properties, often used in jet and gas turbine engines. Cobalt is also used in corrosion and abrasion-resistant steel alloys, especially for very hard applications, as well as in paints and dyes. When cobalt salts are added to glass, porcelain, enamels and pottery, it colors them a brilliant, deep blue. The radioactive isotope Co60 is a strong gamma ray producer and is used in medical applications, such as a radioactive tracer and a cancer fighter.

Biological Benefits

Cobalt is an essential trace element for many species. It is the core of Vitamin B12. It is important in the formation of red blood cells. Low cobalt levels in the soil will cause grazing animals to do poorly. Farmers can buy brilliant blue blocks of cobalt-rich salt to make up this deficiency.

Role in Life Processes

Necessary for full health of plants and animals.

Sources

Cobalt is generally obtained from the minerals cobaltite and smaltite (cobalt arsenide). Other cobalt-bearing minerals include erythrite, glaucodot and linnaeite (cobalt sulfide). It is primarily mined in Zaire, Zambia, Russia, Canada and Cuba. The ocean floor north of Hawaii is thought to be covered with manganese nodules very rich in cobalt.