Tungsten (pronEng|ˈtʌŋstən), also known as wolfram (IPA|/ˈwʊlfrəm/), is a chemical element that has the symbol W and atomic number 74.

A steel-gray metal, tungsten is found in several ores, including wolframite and scheelite. It is remarkable for its robust physical properties, especially the fact that it has the highest melting point of all the non-alloyed metals and the second highest of all the elements after carbon.Daintith, John. Facts on File Dictionary of Chemistry. 4th ed. New York, New York: Checkmark Books, 2005] Tungsten is often brittle and hard to work in its raw state; however, if pure, it can be cut with a hacksaw.Stwertka, Albert A Guide to the elements. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.] The pure form is used mainly in electrical applications, but its many compounds and alloys are used in many applications, most notably in light bulb filaments, X-ray tubes (as both the filament and target), and superalloys. Tungsten is also the only metal from the third transition series that is known to occur in biomolecules. [cite journal
title = The active sites of molybdenum- and tungsten-containing enzymes
author = J McMaster and John H Enemark
journal = Current Opinion in Chemical Biology
volume = 2
issue = 2
pages = 201–207
year = 1998
url =
doi = 10.1016/S1367-5931(98)80061-6
accessdate =
] [cite journal
title = Molybdenum and tungsten in biology
author = Russ Hille
journal = Trends in Biochemical Sciences
volume = 27
issue = 7
pages = 360–367
year = 2002
url =
doi = 10.1016/S0968-0004(02)02107-2
accessdate =


The name "Tungsten" (from the Swedish and Danish "tung sten", meaning "heavy-" or, more accurately, "hard-"stone") is used in English, French, Italian and all three modern Goidelic languages (Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx, though not in any other Celtic language) as the name of the element, although in many other languages (e.g. in German and Spanish) it is known as "wolfram" (though in modern Spanish it is commonly known as "tungsteno"), and its ore as wolframite, and this is the also the origin of its chemical symbol, W. The name "wolframite" is derived from "volf rahm", the name given to tungsten by Johan Gottschalk Wallerius in 1747. This, in turn, derives from "Lupi spuma", the name Georg Agricola used for the element in 1546, which translates into English as "wolf's froth" or "cream" (the etymology is not entirely certain), and is a reference to the large amounts of tin consumed by the mineral during its extraction.cite web
url = http://elements.vanderkrogt.net/elem/w.html
publisher = Elementymology & Elements Multidict
title = Wolframium Wolfram Tungsten
author = Peter van der Krogt
accessdate = 2008-05-09

Physical properties

In its raw form, tungsten is a steel-gray metal that is often brittle and hard to work. But, if pure, it can be worked easily. It is worked by forging, drawing, extruding, or sintering. Of all metals in pure form, tungsten has the highest melting point (3,422 °C, 6,192 °F), lowest vapor pressure and (at temperatures above 1,650 °C) the highest tensile strength.cite web
url = http://periodic.lanl.gov/elements/74.html
publisher = Los Alamos National Laboratory
title = Tungsten
date = 2003-12-15
accessdate = 2008-05-09
] Tungsten has the lowest coefficient of thermal expansion of any pure metal. Alloying small quantities of tungsten with steel greatly increases its toughness.


Naturally occurring tungsten consists of five isotopes whose half-lives are so long that they can be considered stable. Theoretically, all five can decay into isotopes of element 72 (hafnium) by alpha emission, but only 180W has been observed to do so with a half-life of (1.8 ± 0.2)·1018 yr; on average, this yields about two alpha decays of 180W in one gram of natural tungsten per year. The other naturally occurring isotopes have not been observed to decay, constraining their half-lives to be:citeweb|url=http://www.nndc.bnl.gov/chart/|title=Interactive Chart of Nuclides|publisher=Brookhaven National Laboratory|author=Alejandro Sonzogni|location,National Nuclear Data Center|accessdate=2008-06-06] :182W, "T"1/2 > 8.3·1018 years

:183W, "T"1/2 > 29·1018 years

:184W, "T"1/2 > 13·1018 years

:186W, "T"1/2 > 27·1018 years

Another 30 artificial radioisotopes of tungsten have been characterized, the most stable of which are 181W with a half-life of 121.2 days, 185W with a half-life of 75.1 days, 188W with a half-life of 69.4 days, 178W with a half-life of 21.6 days, and 187W with a half-life of 23.72 h. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives of less than 3 hours, and most of these have half-lives that are less than 8 minutes. Tungsten also has 4 meta states, the most stable being 179mW ("T"½ 6.4 minutes).

Chemical properties

Elemental tungsten resists attack by oxygen, acids, and alkalis.



"Main article:

The most common formal oxidation state of tungsten is +6, but it exhibits all oxidation states from -1 to +6.Emsley, John E. The elements. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991] Tungsten typically combines with oxygen to form the yellow tungstic oxide, WO3, which dissolves in aqueous alkaline solutions to form tungstate ions, WO42−.

Tungsten carbides (W2C and WC) are produced by heating powdered tungsten with carbon and are some of the hardest carbides, with a melting point of 2770 °C for WC and 2780 degrees C for W2C. WC is an efficient electrical conductor, but W2C is not as efficient. Tungsten carbide behaves in a manner very similar to that of unalloyed tungsten and is resistant to chemical attack, although it reacts strongly with chlorine to form tungsten hexachloride (WCl6).

Aqueous polyoxoanions

Aqueous tungstate solutions are noted for the formation of heteropoly acids and polyoxometalate anions under neutral and acidic conditions. As tungstate is progressively treated with acid, it first yields the soluble, metastable "paratungstate A" anion, chem|W|7|O|24|6−, which over hours or days converts to the less soluble "paratungstate B" anion, chem|H|2|W|12|O|42|10−.cite journal|last=Smith|first=Bradley J.|year=2000|title=Quantitative Determination of Sodium Metatungstate Speciation by 183W N.M.R. Spectroscopy |journal=Australian Journal of Chemistry|publisher=CSIRO|volume=53|issue=12|url=http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/CH00140.htm|accessdate=2008-06-17] Further acidification produces the very soluble metatungstate anion, chem|H|2|W|12|O|40|6−, after equilibrium is reached. The metatungstate ion exists as a symmetric cluster of twelve tungsten-oxygen octahedra known as the "Keggin" anion. Many other polyoxometalate anions exist as metastable species. The inclusion of a different atom such as phosphorus in place of the two central hydrogens in metatungstate produces a wide variety of heteropoly acids, such as phosphotungstic acid H3P W12O40 in this example.

Biological role

Tungsten is an essential nutrient for some organisms. For example, enzymes called oxidoreductases use tungsten in a way that is similar to molybdenum by using it in a tungsten-pterin complex.cite book|last=Lassner|first=Erik|title=Tungsten: Properties, Chemistry, Technology of the Element, Alloys and Chemical Compounds|publisher=Springer|year=1999|pages=409-411|isbn=0306450534|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=foLRISkt9gcC&pg=PA409&lpg=PA409&dq=tungsten+nutrient+organisms&source=web&ots=-rtHF9sWBY&sig=CoCD7Wp0HS-QRzQEoiPCisLaP04&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result]

On August 20, 2002, officials representing the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that urine tests on leukemia patient families and control group families in the Fallon, Nevada area had shown elevated levels of tungsten in the bodies of both groups. [cite web
url = http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/clusters/Fallon/study.htm
publisher = Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
title = Cross-Sectional Exposure Assessment of Environmental Contaminants in Churchill County, Nevada
date = 2003-02-06
accessdate = 2008-05-09
] Sixteen recent cases of cancer in children were discovered in the Fallon area, which has now been identified as a cancer cluster; although the majority of the cancer victims are not longtime residents of Fallon. However, there is not enough data to support a link between tungsten and leukemia at this time.cite web |url = http://www.familiesagainstcancer.org/?id=344 | publisher = Reno Gazette-Journal | last = Mullen | first = Frank X. | title = Mouse Study Findings key in Fallon Cancer Cases, Scientists Say | date = April 27, 2006 | accessdate = 2008-06-17]


Because of its ability to produce hardness at high temperatures and its high melting point (the second highest of any known element), elemental tungsten is used in many high-temperature applications. [DeGarmo, E. Paul. Materials and Processes in Manufacturing. 5th ed. New York, New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1979.] These include light bulb, cathode-ray tube, and vacuum tube filaments, as well as heating elements and nozzles on rocket engines. The high melting point also makes tungsten suitable for aerospace and high temperature uses which include electrical, heating, and welding applications, notably in the gas tungsten arc welding process (also called TIG welding).

Due to its conductive properties, as well as its relative chemical inertia, tungsten is also used in electrodes, and in the emitter tips of field emission electron-beam instruments, such as focused ion beam (FIB) and electron microscopes. In electronics, tungsten is used as an interconnect material in integrated circuits, between the silicon dioxide dielectric material and the transistors. Additionally, it is used in the manufacture of metallic films, which replace the wiring used in conventional electronics with a coat of tungsten (or molybdenum) on silicon.Schey, John A. Introduction to Manufacturing Processes. 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1987.]

In World War I, steel was put under restricted commercial uses, so Victor developed a tungsten gramophone needle. Called the "Tungs-tone" stylus (as Victor called it), this needle could withstand about 50 to 100 uses before wearing out the record. Victor claimed the needle could be used 300 times, but this would likely cause excessive wear/damage to a record. Victor stated that the needle be tested in the run-off (near the label) grooves and be rotated a quarter turn periodically, and then be tested in the run-off grooves. Victor stated that a Tungs-tone should be a used one for playing a record. [ name="Tungs-tone">cite web|url=http://www.gracyk.com/needletips.shtml]

The electronic structure of tungsten makes it one of the main sources for X-ray targets,cite web|url=http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/6428904/description.html|title=US Patent 6428904 - X-ray target|date=August 6, 2002|publisher= [http://www.patentstorm.us/ PatentStorm] |accessdate=2008-06-18] and also for shielding from high-energy radiations (such as in the radiopharmaceutical industry for shielding radioactive samples of FDG). Tungsten powder is used as a filler material in plastic composites, which are used as a nontoxic substitute for lead in bullets, shot, and radiation shields. Since this element's thermal expansion is similar to borosilicate glass, it is used for making glass-to-metal seals.

The hardness and density of tungsten are applied in obtaining heavy metal alloys. A good example is high speed steel, which may contain as much as 18% tungsten.cite web|url=http://www.azom.com/details.asp?ArticleID=1264|title=Tungsten Applications - Steel|date=2000-2008|publisher= [http://www.azom.com/ azom.com] |accessdate=2008-06-18] Superalloys containing tungsten, like Hastelloy and Stellite, are used in turbine blades and wear resistant parts and coatings. Applications requiring its high density include heat sinks, weights, counterweights, ballast keels for yachts, tail ballast for commercial aircraft, and as ballast in high level race cars in series, such as NASCAR and Formula 1. It is an ideal material to use as a bucking bar for riveting, where the mass necessary for good results can be achieved in a small, easy to wield bar. In armaments, tungsten, usually alloyed with nickel and iron or cobalt to form heavy alloys, is used in kinetic energy penetrators as an alternative to depleted uranium but may also be used in cannon shells, grenades and missiles to create supersonic shrapnel. High-density alloys of tungsten may be used in darts (to allow for a smaller diameter and thus tighter groupings) or for fishing lures (tungsten bead heads allow the fly to sink rapidly). Some types of strings for musical instruments are wound with tungsten wires. Its density, similar to that of gold, allows tungsten to be used in jewelry as an alternative to gold or platinum. Its hardness makes it ideal for rings that will resist scratching, and are hypoallergenic and will not need polishing, which is especially useful in designs with a brushed finish.cite news|url=http://www.popsci.com/diy/article/2008-03/how-make-convincing-fake-gold-bars|title=How to Make Convincing Fake-Gold Bars|last=Gray|first=Theo|date=March 14, 2008|publisher=Popular Science|accessdate=2008-06-18]

Tungsten chemical compounds are used in catalysts, inorganic pigments (e.g. tungsten oxides), and also as high-temperature lubricants (tungsten disulfide). Tungsten carbide (WC) is used to make wear-resistant abrasives and cutters and knives for drills, circular saws, milling and turning tools used by the metalworking, woodworking, mining, petroleum and construction industries. Tungsten oxides are used in ceramic glazes and calcium/magnesium tungstates are used widely in fluorescent lighting. Crystal tungstates are used as scintillation detectors in nuclear physics and nuclear medicine. Other salts that contain tungsten are used in the chemical and tanning industries.

Lately, tungsten is used for jewelry because of its longevity and extremely high durability.


Tungsten is found in the minerals wolframite (iron-manganese tungstate, FeWO4/MnWO4), scheelite (calcium tungstate, (CaWO4), ferberite and hübnerite. These are mined and used to produce about 37,400 tons of tungsten concentrates per year in 2000.cite news|url=http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/tungsten/680400.pdf|title=Tungsten|last=Shedd|first=Kim B.|year=2000|publisher=United States Geological Survey|accessdate=2008-06-18|format=PDF] Over 75% of this production came from China, while most of the remaining production is done in Austria, Bolivia, Portugal, and Russia, while United States produces none.

The extraction of tungsten has several stages, the ore eventually being converted to tungsten (VI) oxide (WO3), which is heated with hydrogen or carbon, producing powdered tungsten.cite book|last=Saunders|first=Nigel|title=Tungsten and the Elements of Groups 3 to 7 (The Periodic Table)|publisher=Heinemann Library|location=Chicago, Illinois|month=February | year=2004|isbn=1403435189] It can be used in that state or converted into solid bars.

Tungsten can also be extracted by hydrogen reduction of WF6 (WF6 + 3H2 = W + 6HF) or pyrolytic decomposition (WF6 + energy = W + 3F2).


In 1781, Carl Wilhelm Scheele ascertained that a new acid could be made from scheelite (at the time named tungstenite): tungstic acid. Scheele and Torbern Bergman suggested that it could be possible to obtain a new metal by reducing this acid. In 1783, José and Fausto Elhuyar found an acid made from wolframite that was identical to tungstic acid. Later that year, in Spain, the brothers succeeded in isolating tungsten through reduction of this acid with charcoal. They are credited with the discovery of the element.cite news|url=http://www.itia.info/FileLib/ITIA_Newsletter_June05.pdf|title=ITIA Newsletter|date=June 2005|publisher=International Tungsten Industry Association|accessdate=2008-06-18|format=PDF] cite news|url=http://www.itia.info/FileLib/ITIA_Newsletter_December05.pdf|title=ITIA Newsletter|date=December 2005|publisher=International Tungsten Industry Association|accessdate=2008-06-18|format=PDF]

In World War II, tungsten played a significant role in background political dealings. Portugal, as the main European source of the element, was put under pressure from both sides, because of its sources of wolframite ore. The resistance to high temperatures, as well as the extreme strength of its alloys, made the metal into a very important raw material for the weaponry industry.cite journal|last=Stevens|first=Donald G.|year=1999|title=World War II Economic Warfare: The United States, Britain, and Portuguese Wolfram|journal=The Historian|publisher= [http://www.questia.com Questia] |url=http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=LY1PyzmCc1D256Gvh5wpbhxKyTyvcm2FHpMwpcs2wW2XyytCh4pW!956463030?docId=5001286099]

ee also

* Field emission gun
* "" by Oliver Sacks


Further reading

* DC/AC Circuits and Electronics: Principles & Applications by Robert K. Herrick, Published by Delmar Learning 2003 for Purdue University

External links

* [http://www.ws2.eagerlearning.com Tungsten Disulfide Applications WS2]
* [http://www.webelements.com/webelements/elements/text/W/index.html WebElements.com – Tungsten]
* [http://www.tungsten.com/mtstung.html Properties, Photos, History, MSDS]
* [http://www.sciencelab.com/data/elements/W.shtml ScienceLab.com – Tungsten]
* [http://www.pniok.de/w.htm Picture in the collection from Heinrich Pniok]
* [http://www.vanderkrogt.net/elements/elem/w.html Elementymology & Elements Multidict by Peter van der Krogt – Tungsten]
* [http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/nucl-ex/0408006 Detection of the Natural Alpha Decay of Tungsten]
* [http://www.itia.info/ International Tungsten Industry Association]
* [http://www.mrteverett.com/Chemistry/pdictable/q_elements.asp?Symbol=W Comprehensive Data on Tungsten]

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  • tungsten — rare metallic element, 1796, from Swed. tungsten calcium tungstate, coined by its discoverer, Swedish chemist Karl Wilhelm Scheele (1742 1786) from tung heavy + sten stone. Used earlier as the name for calcium tungstate (1770). Atomic symbol W is …   Etymology dictionary

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  • tungsten — ► NOUN ▪ a hard steel grey metallic element with a very high melting point, used to make electric light filaments. ORIGIN Swedish, from tung heavy + sten stone …   English terms dictionary

  • tungsten — [tuŋ′stən] n. [Swed, lit., heavy stone, orig. name for scheelite, coined (1755) by A. F. Cronstedt (see NICKEL) < tung, heavy (< IE * tṇghu < base * ten , to pull > THIN) + sten, akin to OE stan, STONE; used (1783) for element… …   English World dictionary

  • tungsten — tungstenic /tung sten ik/, adj. /tung steuhn/, n. Chem. a rare, metallic element having a bright gray color, a metallic luster, and a high melting point, 3410° C, and found in wolframite, tungstite, and other minerals: used in alloys of high… …   Universalium

  • Tungsten — Der Begriff Tungsten (schwedisch harter Stein) wird für Folgendes verwendet: Modell Serie von Palm, einer Firma für tragbare Computer, siehe Tungsten (PDA) eine Gemeinde im kanadischen Territorium Nordwest Territorien, siehe Tungsten (Nordwest… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Tungsten — Tụngs|ten 〈m.; s; unz.〉 = Wolfram [<engl. <schwed. tungsten „Wolfram“ <tung „schwer“ + sten „Stein“] * * * Tung|sten [schwed. tung = schwer, fest u. sten = Stein]: im angloamer., frz. u. romanischen Sprachbereich üblicher Name für ↑… …   Universal-Lexikon

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