Beryllium ( /bəˈrɪliəm/ bə-ril-ee-əm) is the chemical element with the symbol Be and atomic number 4. It is a divalent element which occurs naturally only in combination with other elements in minerals. Notable gemstones which contain beryllium include beryl (aquamarine, emerald) and chrysoberyl. As a free element it is a steel-gray, strong, lightweight and brittle alkaline earth metal.
Beryllium is used primarily as a hardening agent in alloys, notably beryllium copper. In structural applications, high flexural rigidity, thermal stability, thermal conductivity and low density (1.85 times that of water) make beryllium a quality aerospace material for high-speed aircraft, missiles, space vehicles and communication satellites. Because of its low density and atomic mass, beryllium is relatively transparent to X-rays and other forms of ionizing radiation; therefore, it is the most common window material for X-ray equipment and in particle physics experiments. The high thermal conductivity of beryllium and beryllium oxide have led to their use in heat transport and heat sinking applications.
The commercial use of beryllium metal presents technical challenges due to the toxicity (especially by inhalation) of beryllium-containing dusts. Beryllium is corrosive to tissue, and can cause a chronic life-threatening allergic disease called berylliosis in some people. As it is not synthesized in stars, beryllium is a relatively rare element in both the Earth and the universe. The element is not known to be necessary or useful for either plant or animal life.
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