chromium [key] [Gr.,=color], metallic chemical element; symbol Cr; at. no. 24; at. wt. 51.9961; m.p. about 1,857℃; b.p. 2,672℃; sp. gr. about 7.2 at 20℃; valence +2, +3, +6. Chromium is a silver-gray, lustrous, brittle, hard metal that can be highly polished. It is found in Group 6 of the periodic table. It does not tarnish in air, but burns when heated, forming the green chromic oxide. When combined with oxygen, besides yielding chromic oxide, which is used as a pigment, it forms chromic anhydride (the red trioxide and anhydride of chromic acid). With other metallic elements, e.g., lead and potassium, together with oxygen, it forms the chromates and dichromates. These compounds are salts of chromic acid and are used as pigments in paints, in dyeing, and in the tanning of leather. Chrome yellow, a pigment, consists largely of lead chromate. Other chrome colors are black, red, orange, and green. In the chrome process for tanning leather, a dichromate is used, and chromium hydroxide, a basic compound of chromium, hydrogen, and oxygen, is precipitated and held in the leather. The hydroxide is used also as a mordant in dyeing cloth. A mixture of potassium dichromate and sulfuric acid is used as a powerful agent for cleaning laboratory glassware. Chromium is a comparatively rare element, never occurring by itself in nature but always in compounds. Its chief source is the mineral chromite, which is composed of iron, chromium, and oxygen and is found principally in the nations of South Africa, India, Kazakhstan, and Zimbabwe. The element, in the form of chromic oxide, gives the greenish tint to the emerald and the aquamarine. Metallic chromium is prepared by reduction of the oxide by aluminum or by carbon. It is used in plating other metals because of its hardness and nontarnishing properties. In alloys with other metals it contributes hardness, strength, and heat resistance. Its most important use is in the steel industry, where it is a constituent of several alloy steels, e.g., chromium steel or chrome steel. Stainless steel contains from 11% to 18% chromium. An alloy of nickel and chromium, often called Nichrome, is widely used as a heating element in electric toasters, coffeepots, and other appliances. Stellite is an extremely hard alloy of cobalt, chromium, and tungsten, with small amounts of iron, silicon, and carbon; it is used in metal cutting tools and for wear-resistant surfaces. A similar alloy, with molybdenum instead of tungsten, is used in surgical tools since it does not react with body fluids. Chromium was discovered in 1797 by L. N. Vauquelin.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Compounds and Elements