Home Element Metal Ytterbium


What is ytterbium?

Ytterbium is a chemical element or rare earth metal in the periodic table with the symbol Yb and atomic number 70. The pure metal is a soft, malleable, and ductile chemical element that displays a bright silvery luster. The density, melting, and boiling point of ytterbium differ from other rare earth metals due to its closed-shell electronic configuration.

Ytterbium element uses, symbol Yb, facts and properties of rare earth metal Ytterbium

It is a useful component for making the world’s most stable atomic clock. Much progress has been observed in optical fibers technology after using ytterbium-doped optical lasers.

Ytterbium was discovered in 1879 by the Swiss chemist Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac while examining samples of gadolinite. He found a new component from gadolinite known as erbia. He named it ytterbia for Ytterby means the Swedish village near where the new component of erbium was found.

Where is ytterbium found?

Ytterbium is the 44th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and one of the more common rare earth metals found with other rare-earth minerals.

The most common and commercially important mineral of the metal is monazite. The element is also found in the minerals euxenite and xenotime.

The main mining region of ytterbium metal is China, the United States, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, and Australia. It can be extracted and separated from other rare earth minerals by ion exchange chromatography and solvent extraction process.


Naturally occurring ytterbium is a mixture of seven stable isotopes with atomic mass ranging from 168 to 176. The most common isotope is ytterbium-174 which occurs in about 31.8 percent of the natural abundance. At least 27 radioactive isotopes have been obtained by various nuclear reactions.

Most of these radioactive isotopes have half-lives of less than 20 minutes. The primary radioactive decay mode of ytterbium isotopes is electron capture or beta decay. It also displays 12 meta-stable isotopes with the most stable being ytterbium-169m.


Soft, silvery ytterbium oxidizes slowly in the air by the formation of a protective surface layer. The finely divided ytterbium powdered will ignite in the air.

Symbol Yb
Discovery Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac in 1878
Name derived from From the mineral, Ytterby found in Sweden
Common isotopes 70Yb172, 70Yb173, and 70Yb174
Oxidation states +3, +2
CAS number 7440-64-4
Periodic properties
Atomic number 70
Relative atomic mass 173.045
Electron per cell 2, 8, 18, 32, 8, 2
Electronic Configuration [Xe] 4f14 6s2
Block f-block
Group Lanthanides
Period 6
Physical properties
State at 20 °C Solid
Melting point 824 °C, 1097 K
Boiling point 1196 °C, 1469 K
Molar heat capacity 26.74 J mol−1 K1
Crystal structure ​face-centered cubic (fcc)
Density 6.90 g/cm3
Heat of fusion 7.66 kJ mol−1
Heat of vaporization 129 kJ mol−1
Atomic properties
Atomic radius (non-bonded) 2.26 Å
Covalent radius 1.78 Å
Electronegativity Unknown
Electron affinity −1.93 kJ mol−1
Ionization energy (kJ/mol) 1st 2nd 3rd
603.43 1174.80 2416.96

Ytterbium in the periodic table

The rare earth metal ytterbium is placed with f-block elements in the periodic table. It is a lanthanide that lies between thulium and lutetium.

Ytterbium element in the periodic table with atomic number 70, symbol Yb, electron configuration, uses and facts about rare earth metal Ytterbium

Electron configuration of ytterbium

The 70 electrons of the ytterbium atom are distributed in different energy levels to show the following electronic configuration,

Ytterbium electron configuration and atomic structure with atomic number, atomic mass and electron per shell or energy levels

Chemical properties

Like other lanthanides, the most common oxidation number or state of ytterbium is +3 but the +2 oxidation state is also stable due to the f14 configuration of the Yb+2 ion. It reacts with hydrogen to form various non-stoichiometric hydride compounds.

Ytterbium is a highly reactive and electropositive rare earth metal that is stable in dry air at ordinary temperatures but rapidly dull in humid atmospheres. It readily reacts with oxygen to form Yb (III) oxide Yb2O3.
4 Yb + 3 O2 → 2 Yb2O3

Ytterbium stands far above hydrogen in the electrochemical series. Therefore, it reacts slowly with cold water and rapidly with hot water to liberate hydrogen and the formation of Yb (III) hydroxide.
2 Yb + 6 H2O → 2 Yb(OH)3 + 3 H2

It forms both dihalides and trihalides compound when reacts with halogens like fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine.
2 Yb + 3 X2 → 2 YbX3 (X = F, Cl, Br, I)

The dihalides are oxidized to the trihalides at room temperature but disproportionate to the trihalides and metallic ytterbium at high temperatures.
3 YbX2 → 2 YbX3 + Yb (X = F, Cl, Br, I)

It is readily dissolved by strong mineral acids like sulfuric acid, nitric acid, or hydrochloric acid. In dilute sulfuric acid, it forms a solution that contains the colorless Yb+3 ions which exist as nonahydrate complexes. It dissolves in ammonia to form blue electride salts.
2 Yb + 3 H2SO4 + 18 H2O → 2 [Yb(H2O)9]3+ + 3 SO4−2 + 3 H2

Facts about ytterbium

  • Ytterbium is a bright, shiny silver metal that is more reactive than the other lanthanide elements. Therefore, it is generally stored in sealed containers to save it from oxygen and humid atmospheres.
  • The valence electron configuration of the Yb atom at +2 state is [Xe] 4f14 with a fully filled f-shell. Therefore, the +2 state of the metal is relatively stable due to the fully filled f-shell configuration.
  • Colurless aqueous solution contains only Yb+3 because the yellow-green Yb+2 ion is a very strong reducing agent which decomposes water.
  • Pure ytterbium metal can be produced after the discovery of ion exchange chromatography.
  • It is found principally in the mineral monazite and extracted or separated by ion exchange chromatography and solvent extraction process.
  • The price of the metals is relatively more stable than the other rare earth elements.
  • The low toxic ytterbium does not play any biological role in humans and other animals.
  • Metallic ytterbium powdered causes fire in contact with air.
  • It is used for replacing many too toxic and polluting industrial catalysts.

Uses of ytterbium

  • It is used for making the world’s most stable atomic clock. A large number of atoms are the key factor for the high stability of atomic clocks.
  • The Yb (III) ion is a doping material that is used in solid-state lasers and double-clad fiber lasers.
  • Huge progress has been observed in optical fibers technology after the discovery of ytterbium-doped optical fibers.
  • Ytterbium is a doping agent to improve grain refinement and mechanical strength of stainless steel.
  • Like other rare earth metals, it can be used for making ceramic capacitors and other electronic devices,
  • It is used as an industrial chemical catalyst for controlling various industrial processes. It has been used to replace other industrial catalysts which are too toxic and polluting.
  • Presently, ytterbium metal is used for making memory devices and tunable lasers.