Ytterbium, 70Yb
Pronunciationm/ (TUR-bee-əm)
Appearancesilvery white; with a pale yellow tint[1]
Standard atomic weight Ar, std(Yb)173.045(10)[2][3][4]
Ytterbium in the periodic table
CaesiumBariumLanthanumCeriumPraseodymiumNeodymiumPromethiumSamariumEuropiumGadoliniumTerbiumDysprosiumHolmiumErbiumThuliumYtterbiumLutetiumHafniumTantalumTungstenRheniumOsmiumIridiumPlatinumGoldMercury (element)ThalliumLeadBismuthPoloniumAstatineRadon


Atomic number (Z)70
Groupgroup n/a
Periodperiod 6
Element category  Lanthanide
Electron configuration[Xe] 4f14 6s2
Electrons per shell2, 8, 18, 32, 8, 2
Physical properties
Phase at STPsolid
Melting point1097 K ​(824 °C, ​1515 °F)
Boiling point1469 K ​(1196 °C, ​2185 °F)
Density (near r.t.)6.90 g/cm3
when liquid (at m.p.)6.21 g/cm3
Heat of fusion7.66 kJ/mol
Heat of vaporization129 kJ/mol
Molar heat capacity26.74 J/(mol·K)
Vapor pressure
P (Pa)1101001 k10 k100 k
at T (K)7368139101047(1266)(1465)
Atomic properties
Oxidation states+1, +2, +3 (a basic oxide)
ElectronegativityPauling scale: 1.1 (?)
Ionization energies
  • 1st: 603.4 kJ/mol
  • 2nd: 1174.8 kJ/mol
  • 3rd: 2417 kJ/mol
Atomic radiusempirical: 176 pm
Covalent radius187±8 pm
Color lines in a spectral range
Spectral lines of ytterbium
Other properties
Natural occurrenceprimordial
Crystal structureface-centered cubic (fcc)
Face-centered cubic crystal structure for ytterbium
Speed of sound thin rod1590 m/s (at 20 °C)
Thermal expansionβ, poly: 26.3 µm/(m·K) (r.t.)
Thermal conductivity38.5 W/(m·K)
Electrical resistivityβ, poly: 0.250 µΩ·m (at r.t.)
Magnetic orderingparamagnetic
Magnetic susceptibility+249.0·10−6 cm3/mol (2928 K)[5]
Young's modulusβ form: 23.9 GPa
Shear modulusβ form: 9.9 GPa
Bulk modulusβ form: 30.5 GPa
Poisson ratioβ form: 0.207
Vickers hardness205–250 MPa
Brinell hardness340–440 MPa
CAS Number7440-64-4
Namingafter Ytterby (Sweden), where it was mined
DiscoveryJean Charles Galissard de Marignac (1878)
First isolationCarl Auer von Welsbach (1906)
Main isotopes of ytterbium
Iso­topeAbun­danceHalf-life (t1/2)Decay modePro­duct
166Ybsyn56.7 hε166Tm
169Ybsyn32.026 dε169Tm
175Ybsyn4.185 dβ175Lu
177Ybsyn1.911 hβ177Lu
| references

Ytterbium is a chemical element with the symbol Yb and atomic number 70. It is the fourteenth and penultimate element in the lanthanide series, which is the basis of the relative stability of its +2 oxidation state. However, like the other lanthanides, its most common oxidation state is +3, as in its oxide, halides, and other compounds. In aqueous solution, like compounds of other late lanthanides, soluble ytterbium compounds form complexes with nine water molecules. Because of its closed-shell electron configuration, its density and melting and boiling points differ significantly from those of most other lanthanides.

In 1878, the Swiss chemist Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac separated from the rare earth "erbia" another independent component, which he called "ytterbia", for Ytterby, the village in Sweden near where he found the new component of erbium. He suspected that ytterbia was a compound of a new element that he called "ytterbium" (in total, four elements were named after the village, the others being yttrium, terbium and erbium). In 1907, the new earth "lutecia" was separated from ytterbia, from which the element "lutecium" (now lutetium) was extracted by Georges Urbain, Carl Auer von Welsbach, and Charles James. After some discussion, Marignac's name "ytterbium" was retained. A relatively pure sample of the metal was not obtained until 1953. At present, ytterbium is mainly used as a dopant of stainless steel or active laser media, and less often as a gamma ray source.

Natural ytterbium is a mixture of seven stable isotopes, which altogether are present at concentrations of 3 parts per million. This element is mined in China, the United States, Brazil, and India in form of the minerals monazite, euxenite, and xenotime. The ytterbium concentration is low because it is found only among many other rare earth elements; moreover, it is among the least abundant. Once extracted and prepared, ytterbium is somewhat hazardous as an eye and skin irritant. The metal is a fire and explosion hazard.


Physical properties

Ytterbium is a soft, malleable and ductile chemical element that displays a bright silvery luster when pure. It is a rare earth element, and it is readily dissolved by the strong mineral acids. It reacts slowly with cold water and it oxidizes slowly in air.[6]

Ytterbium has three allotropes labeled by the Greek letters alpha, beta and gamma; their transformation temperatures are −13 °C and 795 °C,[6] although the exact transformation temperature depends on the pressure and stress.[7] The beta allotrope (6.966 g/cm3) exists at room temperature, and it has a face-centered cubic crystal structure. The high-temperature gamma allotrope (6.57 g/cm3) has a body-centered cubic crystalline structure.[6] The alpha allotrope (6.903 g/cm3) has a hexagonal crystalline structure and is stable at low temperatures.[8] The beta allotrope has a metallic electrical conductivity at normal atmospheric pressure, but it becomes a semiconductor when exposed to a pressure of about 16,000 atmospheres (1.6 GPa). Its electrical resistivity increases ten times upon compression to 39,000 atmospheres (3.9 GPa), but then drops to about 10% of its room-temperature resistivity at about 40,000 atm (4.0 GPa).[6][9]

In contrast with the other rare-earth metals, which usually have antiferromagnetic and/or ferromagnetic properties at low temperatures, ytterbium is paramagnetic at temperatures above 1.0 kelvin.[10] However, the alpha allotrope is diamagnetic.[7] With a melting point of 824 °C and a boiling point of 1196 °C, ytterbium has the smallest liquid range of all the metals.[6]

Contrary to most other lanthanides, which have a close-packed hexagonal lattice, ytterbium crystallizes in the face-centered cubic system. Ytterbium has a density of 6.973 g/cm3, which is significantly lower than those of the neighboring lanthanides, thulium (9.32 g/cm3) and lutetium (9.841 g/cm3). Its melting and boiling points are also significantly lower than those of thulium and lutetium. This is due to the closed-shell electron configuration of ytterbium ([Xe] 4f14 6s2), which causes only the two 6s electrons to be available for metallic bonding (in contrast to the other lanthanides where three electrons are available) and increases ytterbium's metallic radius.[8]

Chemical properties

Ytterbium metal tarnishes slowly in air. Finely dispersed ytterbium readily oxidizes in air and under oxygen. Mixtures of powdered ytterbium with polytetrafluoroethylene or hexachloroethane burn with a luminous emerald-green flame.[11] Ytterbium reacts with hydrogen to form various non-stoichiometric hydrides. Ytterbium dissolves slowly in water, but quickly in acids, liberating hydrogen gas.[8]

Ytterbium is quite electropositive, and it reacts slowly with cold water and quite quickly with hot water to form ytterbium(III) hydroxide:[12]

2 Yb (s) + 6 H2O (l) → 2 Yb(OH)3 (aq) + 3 H2 (g)

Ytterbium reacts with all the halogens:[12]

2 Yb (s) + 3 F2 (g) → 2 YbF3 (s) [white]
2 Yb (s) + 3 Cl2 (g) → 2 YbCl3 (s) [white]
2 Yb (s) + 3 Br2 (g) → 2 YbBr3 (s) [white]
2 Yb (s) + 3 I2 (g) → 2 YbI3 (s) [white]

The ytterbium(III) ion absorbs light in the near infrared range of wavelengths, but not in visible light, so ytterbia, Yb2O3, is white in color and the salts of ytterbium are also colorless. Ytterbium dissolves readily in dilute sulfuric acid to form solutions that contain the colorless Yb(III) ions, which exist as nonahydrate complexes:[12]

2 Yb (s) + 3 H2SO4 (aq) + 18 H
(l) → 2 [Yb(H2O)9]3+ (aq) + 3 SO2−
(aq) + 3 H2 (g)

Yb(II) vs. Yb(III)

Although usually trivalent, ytterbium readily forms divalent compounds. This behavior is unusual for lanthanides, which almost exclusively form compounds with an oxidation state of +3. The +2 state has a valence electron configuration of 4f14 because the fully filled f-shell gives more stability. The yellow-green ytterbium(II) ion is a very strong reducing agent and decomposes water, releasing hydrogen gas, and thus only the colorless ytterbium(III) ion occurs in aqueous solution. Samarium and thulium also behave this way in the +2 state, but europium(II) is stable in aqueous solution. Ytterbium metal behaves similarly to europium metal and the alkaline earth metals, dissolving in ammonia to form blue electride salts.[8]


Natural ytterbium is composed of seven stable isotopes: 168Yb, 170Yb, 171Yb, 172Yb, 173Yb, 174Yb, and 176Yb, with 174Yb being the most common, at 31.8% of the natural abundance). 27 radioisotopes have been observed, with the most stable ones being 169Yb with a half-life of 32.0 days, 175Yb with a half-life of 4.18 days, and 166Yb with a half-life of 56.7 hours. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than two hours, and most of these have half-lives under 20 minutes. Ytterbium also has 12 meta states, with the most stable being 169mYb (t1/2 46 seconds).[13][14]

The isotopes of ytterbium range in atomic weight from 147.9674 atomic mass unit (u) for 148Yb to 180.9562 u for 181Yb. The primary decay mode of ytterbium isotopes lighter than the most abundant stable isotope, 174Yb, is electron capture, and the primary decay mode for those heavier than 174Yb is beta decay. The primary decay products of ytterbium isotopes lighter than 174Yb are thulium isotopes, and the primary decay products of ytterbium isotopes with heavier than 174Yb are lutetium isotopes.[13][14]