Science – The Elements – Lithium


What is an Atom?

The Elements – Helium

What is Lithium?

Lithium is the third element on the periodic table. It has 3 protons, 3 electrons, and 4 neutrons. Lithium gets its name from the Greek word “lithos” which means “stone”.

Atomic Number 3
Atomic Weight6.94
Type of MatterSolid

Lithium is the first element on the periodic table to be a solid at room temperature. It is also the first metal and has a shiny silver color. Lithium is so light that it can float on water! It would be a bad idea to put pure lithium in water though. Lithium explodes when it touches water!


How was Lithium discovered?

In the 1790s, José Bonifácio discovered a new mineral called petalite in Sweden. He noticed that the rock burned bright red when he threw it in a fire. It burned red because the mineral contained lithium. But he didn’t know that!

Johan August Arfvedson tested petalite in 1817 and figured out that it contained a new metal. He called it “lithium”, probably because it was discovered inside of a stone. He wasn’t able to find a way to separate lithium from the petalite though.

In 1855, two scientists, Robert Bunsen and Augustus Matthiessen, discovered a way to separate pure lithium from minerals. Now it could be studied!

Fancy Science Words
PetaliteA mineral that contains lithium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen. It can be clear, yellow, pink, or gray
IonAn atom that has more or less electrons than it has protons

What is Lithium Used For?

The main use for lithium is in rechargeable batteries. Since lithium batteries are so light, they’re great for smartphones, tablets, and laptops. They’re even used in electric cars!

An atom of Lithium

Lithium is used in the glass of huge telescopes to keep lenses and mirrors from getting too hot. It’s also used in grease to keep machinery cool and running smoothly. Some medicines are made with lithium too.

Science Facts
Lithium batteries work by storing extra electrons. When you charge your battery, electricity flows into the battery and adds electrons to the lithium atoms. This turns the atoms into ions. The atoms move from the positive side of the battery to the negative side. When you use your phone, the lithium atoms move from the negative side of the battery to the positive side. The extra electrons leave the atoms and power your phone!

That’s it for lithium. Next time, we will learn about beryllium. It’s going to be out of this world!



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