Gallium | Descriptions, Chemical and Physical Properties, Uses & Facts

gallium | Ga

Gallium: The Elemental Chameleon


Gallium, a fascinating element with the symbol Ga, atomic number 31, and an atomic mass of approximately 69.72 atomic mass units, is a true elemental chameleon. Discovered in 1875 by French chemist Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran, gallium holds a unique position in the periodic table, showcasing a range of intriguing properties and applications.

Atomic Structure and Valency:

Gallium's electron configuration is [Ar] 3d¹⁰ 4s² 4p¹ or 1s22s22p63s23p64s23d104p1, reflecting its position in Group 13 of the periodic table. With three valence electrons in its outer shell, gallium exhibits a valency of +3. This valency plays a crucial role in gallium's chemical behavior and its ability to form various compounds.

Chemical and Physical Properties:

Gallium possesses several notable chemical and physical properties. At room temperature, gallium is a soft, silvery-white metal that has a melting point just above 29.76 degrees Celsius, allowing it to melt in the palm of one's hand. This low melting point is a consequence of the unique structure of gallium's crystal lattice.

In terms of reactivity, gallium does not corrode in dry air but forms a thin oxide layer when exposed to moisture, preventing further oxidation. Gallium is known for its ability to alloy with many metals, enhancing their properties. Notably, it forms gallium arsenide (GaAs), a semiconductor widely used in electronics and optoelectronics.

Reactions with Other Elements and Compounds:

Gallium's chemical versatility is evident in its reactions with other elements and compounds. It readily alloys with aluminum, forming an alloy with improved strength at high temperatures. Gallium also exhibits a unique property called "gallium attack," where it can penetrate grain boundaries in certain metals, weakening them. This property finds applications in materials science and metallurgy.

Gallium reacts with acids to liberate hydrogen gas and forms various compounds, such as gallium oxide and gallium chloride. Its ability to mimic the behavior of certain metals, particularly aluminum and iron, makes gallium a valuable element in certain industrial processes.

Occurrence and Production:

While gallium is not abundant in the Earth's crust, it is dispersed widely in trace amounts. It is often found as a byproduct in the extraction of aluminum and zinc from their ores. The primary sources of gallium include bauxite, coal, and some minerals like sphalerite.

Commercially, gallium is extracted through a series of processes, including leaching from bauxite, purification, and electrolysis. Recycling of gallium from electronic waste has also become an increasingly important source.

Gallium Uses:

1. Electronics: Gallium's role in the electronics industry is prominent. Gallium arsenide, gallium nitride, and other gallium-containing compounds are crucial in the production of high-speed electronic devices, LEDs, and solar cells.

2. Alloys: Gallium-aluminum alloys find applications in the aerospace industry, where their high-temperature stability is advantageous.

3. Medicine: Gallium compounds exhibit antimicrobial properties and are being investigated for potential use in medicine, particularly in the treatment of certain infections and cancers.

4. Solar Panels: Gallium is used in the production of thin-film solar panels, contributing to the renewable energy sector.

Gallium Facts:

  • Gallium's melting point is so low that it can melt in one's hand, showcasing its unique physical properties.
  • It is one of the few metals that expands upon solidification, defying the typical behavior of most materials.
  • Gallium has no known biological role and is considered non-toxic.
  • The discovery of gallium filled a gap in the periodic table predicted by Dmitri Mendeleev.


In conclusion, gallium's versatility, from its ability to melt at low temperatures to its critical role in modern electronics, makes it a captivating element with a myriad of applications. As technology continues to advance, gallium's unique properties are likely to find even more diverse and innovative uses in various fields.

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