(L. rubidus: deepest red) Discovered in 1861 by Bunsen and Kirchoff in the mineral lepidolite by use of the spectroscope.
The element is much more abundant than was thought several years ago. It is now considered to be the 16th most abundant element in the earth's crust. Rubidium occurs in pollucite, leucite, and zinnwaldite, which contains traces up to 1%, in the form of the oxide. It is found in lepidolite to the extent of about 1.5%, and is recovered commercially from this source. Potassium minerals, such as those found at Searles Lake, California, and potassium chloride recovered from the brines in Michigan also contain the element and are commercial sources. It is also found along with cesium in the extensive deposits of pollucite at Bernic Lake, Manitoba.
Rubidium can be liquid at room temperature. It is a soft, silvery-white metallic element of the alkali group and is the second most electropositive and alkaline element. It ignites spontaneously in air and reacts violently in water, setting fire to the liberated hydrogen. As with other alkali metals, it forms amalgams with mercury and it alloys with gold, cesium, sodium, and potassium. It colors a flame yellowish violet. Rubidium metal can be prepared by reducing rubidium chloride with calcium, and by a number of other methods. It must be kept under a dry mineral oil or in a vacuum or inert atmosphere.
Twenty four isotopes of rubidium are known. Naturally occurring rubidium is made of two isotopes, 85Rb and 87Rb. Rubidium-87 is present to the extent of 27.85% in natural rubidium and is a beta emitter with a half-life of 4.9 x 1010 years. Ordinary rubidium is sufficiently radioactive to expose a photographic film in about 30 to 60 days. Rubidium forms four oxides: Rb2O, Rb2O2, Rb2O3, Rb2O4.
Because rubidium can be easily ionized, it has been considered for use in "ion engines" for space vehicles; however, cesium is somewhat more efficient for this purpose. It is also proposed for use as a working fluid for vapor turbines and for use in a thermoelectric generator using the magnetohydrodynamic principle where rubidium ions are formed by heat at high temperature and passed through a magnetic field. These conduct electricity and act like an amature of a generator thereby generating an electric current. Rubidium is used as a getter in vacuum tubes and as a photocell component. It has been used in making special glasses. RbAg4I5 is important, as it has the highest room conductivity of any known ionic crystal. At 20oC its conductivity is about the same as dilute sulfuric acid. This suggests use in thin film batteries and other applications.
The present cost in small quantities is about $25/g.