What Is Iridium And Is It More Expensive Than Gold?

There are quite a few examples of materials on Earth more expensive than gold. From glittering diamonds to shiny rhodium, the world’s precious natural resources can fetch high prices. But what about iridium?

What is iridium?

Iridium is a chemical element that has the atomic number 77 and is classed as a transition metal. Iridium is solid at room temperature. The name Iridium is said to come from the Greek word Iris meaning rainbow which represents the strongly colored compounds rather than the metal itself according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.  Like gold, iridium is pretty unreactive and has a very high density and melting point. In fact, iridium is the most corrosion-resistant element within the Periodic Table. 

Iridium sits in the middle of the transition metals – number 77.
Image Credit: Sandbh via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0

Who discovered iridium?

English chemist Smithson Tennant is the person most credited with discovering the element – however many people, including French chemists H.V. Collet-Descotils, A.F. Fourcroy, and N.L. Vauquelin are likely to have come across iridium roughly around 1803 in platinum ores, reports LiveScience. The metal was found by dissolving platinum in aqua regia, a mixture of very strong acids. 

What is iridium used for?

Given the high density of this metal, the rare pure form of iridium is rarely used – indeed, the rare form might not even exist in nature. Most iridium-containing ores only contain a small percentage of iridium and can be found in South Africa, Alaska, Brazil, Myanmar, and Russia. 

Instead, the material is combined with platinum to create alloys that are typically 5-10 percent iridium. These alloys are then used for jewelry, the points of pens, surgical metals, and electrical contacts according to Britannica

How expensive is iridium?

At the time of writing, Iridium is $4,500 an ounce, whereas gold is roughly $2,082 an ounce. Time to check those ballpoint pens! 

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.  

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