The s-Block Elements

Beryllium, Calcium and Magnesium

Does your mother force you to drink a glass full of milk every day or your bones will lose their calcium and become weak? Our bones need calcium to maintain their density. Likewise, beryllium and magnesium are two other elements that we require for various purposes. Do you know that these three elements are in the same group of the periodic table? That means they must have similar properties too. Let’s learn about these properties of the three elements and their importance.

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Beryllium, Calcium and Magnesium

Naturally occurring elements are quite rare but of extensive use to the humankind. One of such class of elements occurs in the second column of the periodic table. These chemical elements are collectively called as the Alkaline Earth Metals. Beryllium, Calcium and Magnesium are three of the six elements that fall into this category.

The outer electronic structure of all these elements is similar due to which they all have similarity in their chemical and physical properties. They are all shiny, though fairly soft but still harder than alkali metals. Further, these are usually white or silvery coloured elements.

They react with water to form hydrogen gas and metal hydroxide and with oxygen, they form oxides. It will be fascinating to know more about these 3 elements and their uses and characteristics. So let’s learn about these elements one by one.

Beryllium(Be)(Z = 4)

Beryllium is the lightest of the entire alkali earth metal family. It was discovered by a French Chemist Louis-Nicholas Vauquelin (1763-1829) in 1798. He suggested the name glucinium, meaning ‘sweet tasting’, for the element because the element and some of its compounds have a sweet taste. The name beryllium was officially adopted in 1957 after the mineral beryl, which was the form of its discovery.

By far the greatest use of beryllium metal is in alloys (combination of two or more metals melted and mixed). Beryllium alloys are popular because they are tough, stiff, and lighter than similar alloys. Beryllium finds use in alloys with copper or nickel to make gyroscopes, springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes and non-sparking tools.

It occurs in about 30 different mineral species. One of the most important is Beryl (beryllium aluminium silicate). Emerald and aquamarine are its precious forms.

s-Block Elements

Calcium (Ca)(Z = 20)

Calcium is a very commonly used element of the alkali earth metal family. It has been in use for as long as can be dated back even before its official discovery by an English Chemist Humphry Davy (1778-1829) in 1808. It had been in use in compound format (one of the many was limestone) but Humphry discovered the pure Calcium and named it thus, from the Latin word ‘calx’ meaning lime.

Metallic calcium has relatively few uses. However, calcium compounds are well known and widely used. The starting point for the manufacture of most calcium compounds is limestone. Limestone occurs naturally in large amounts and used in the production of metals. Another important use of lime is in pollution control. Many factories release harmful gases into the atmosphere through smokestacks. Lining a smokestack with lime allows some of these gases to get absorbed before releasing.

Calcium is essential to both plant and animal life. In humans, it makes up about two percent of body weight. About 99 percent of the calcium in a person’s body is found in bones and teeth. Milk is a good source of calcium.


(Source: Livestrong)

Magnesium (Mg)(Z = 12)

The first person to recognise that magnesium was an element was Joseph Black at Edinburgh in 1755. He distinguished magnesia (magnesium oxide, MgO) from lime (calcium oxide, CaO) although both were produced by heating similar kinds of carbonate rocks, magnesite and limestone respectively. The name was coined from Magnesia. A pure, but tiny, amount of the metal was isolated in 1808 by Humphry Davy by the electrolysis of magnesium oxide.

Magnesium is used in products that benefit from being lightweight, such as car seats, luggage, laptops, cameras and power tools. Magnesium ignites easily in air and burns with a bright light; hence it’s used in flares, fireworks and sparklers.

Magnesium oxide is used to make heat-resistant bricks for fireplaces and furnaces. Also, Chlorophyll contains magnesium at its centre which enables plants to carry out the process of photosynthesis. Magnesium is very rarely found in the purest form. It usually occurs in a combined state in nature.

Solved Example

Q: What are the practical applications of Beryllium, Calcium and Magnesium?


  • Beryllium is used mostly for military applications, but there are other uses of beryllium, as well. In electronics, it is used in some semiconductors, and beryllium oxide is used as a high-strength electrical insulator and heat conductor.
  • Magnesium has many different uses. One of its most common use was in industry, where it is often alloyed with aluminium or zinc to form materials with more desirable properties than any pure metal. Also, it is used in the production of iron, steel and titanium.
  • Calcium can be used as a reducing agent in the separation of other metals from ore, like uranium. It is also used in the production of the alloys of many metals, such as aluminium and copper alloys, and is also used to deoxidize alloys as well. Calcium is also used in the making of cheese, mortars, and cement.
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