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CALCIUM

DOI: 10.1615/AtoZ.c.calcium

Calcium—(L. calx, lime), Ca; atomic weight 40.08; atomic number 20; melting point 839±2°C; boiling point 1484°C; specific gravity 1.55 (20°C); valence 2. Though lime was prepared by the Romans in the first century under the name calx, the metal was not discovered until 1808. After learning that Berzelius and Pontin prepared calcium amalgam by electrolyzing lime in mercury, Davy was able to isolate the impure metal.

Calcium is a metallic element, fifth in abundance in the earth's crust, of which it forms more than 3%. It is an essential constituent of leaves, bones, teeth, and shells. Never found in nature uncombined, it occurs abundantly as limestone (CaCO3), gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O), and fluorite (CaF2); apatite is the fluophosphate or chlorophosphate of calcium. The metal has a silvery color, is rather hard, and is prepared by electrolysis of the fused chloride to which calcium fluoride is added to lower the melting point. Chemically it is one of the alkaline earth elements; it readily forms a white coating of nitride in air, reacts with water, burns with a yellow-red flame, forming largely the nitride.

The metal is used as a reducing agent in preparing other metals such as thorium, uranium, zirconium, etc., and is used as a deoxidizer, desulfurizer, or decarburizer for various ferrous and nonferrous alloys. It is also used as an alloying agent for aluminum, beryllium, copper, lead, and magnesium alloys, and serves as a "getter" for residual gases in vacuum tubes, etc. Its natural and prepared compounds are widely used.

Quicklime (CaO), made by heating limestone and changed into slaked lime by the careful addition of water, is the great cheap base of chemical industry with countless uses. Mixed with sand, it hardens as mortar and plaster by taking up carbon dioxide from the air. Calcium from limestone is an important element in Portland cement.

The solubility of the carbonate in water containing carbon dioxide causes the formation of caves with stalactites and stalagmites and hardness in water.

Other important compounds are carbide (CaC2), chloride (CaCl2), cyanamide (CaCN2), hypochlorite [Ca(OCl2)2], nitrate [Ca(NO3)2], and sulfide (CaS).

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