(Gr. neos, new, and didymos, twin) In 1841, Mosander, extracted from cerite a new rose-colored oxide, which he believed contained a new element. He named the element didymium, as it was an inseparable twin brother of lanthanum. In 1885 von Welsbach separated didymium into two new elemental components, neodymia and praseodymia, by repeated fractionation of ammonium didymium nitrate. While the free metal is in misch metal, long known and used as a pyrophoric alloy for light flints, the element was not isolated in relatively pure form until 1925. Neodymium is present in misch metal to the extent of about 18%. It is present in the minerals monazite and bastnasite, which are principal sources of rare-earth metals.
The element may be obtained by separating neodymium salts from other rare earths by ion-exchange or solvent extraction techniques, and by reducing anhydrous halides such as NdF3 with calcium metal. Other separation techniques are possible.
The metal has a bright silvery metallic luster, Neodymium is one of the more reactive rare-earth metals and quickly tarnishes in air, forming an oxide that spalls off and exposes metal to oxidation. The metal, therefore, should be kept under light mineral oil or sealed in a plastic material. Neodymium exists in two allotropic forms, with a transformation from a double hexagonal to a body-centered cubic structure taking place at 863oC.
Natural neodymium is a mixture of seven stable isotopes. Fourteen other radioactive isotopes are recognized.
Didymium, of which neodymium is a component, is used for coloring glass to make welders goggles. By itself, neodymium colors glass delicate shades ranging from pure violet through wine-red and warm gray. Light transmitted through such glass shows unusually sharp absorption bands. The glass has been used in astronomical work to produce sharp bands by which spectral lines may be calibrated. Glass containing neodymium can be used as a laser material to produce coherent light. Neodymium salts are also used as a colorant for enamels.
The price of the metal is about $1/g.
Neodymium has a low-to-moderate acute toxic rating. As with other rare earths, neodymium should be handled with care.