|This Wikijunior article is a stub. You can help Wikijunior by expanding it.|
What does it look, feel, taste, or smell like?
Bismuth is a soft brittle, heavy, pinkish-tinged silver metal that tarnishes easily in air. The crystal form gives off a reflection of rainbow-like colors. The smell is undetermined.
How was it discovered?
Bismuth was used for centuries without people knowing what it was, and they confused it with tin or lead. In 1753, Claude François Geoffroy showed that it was neither tin nor lead but an element in its own right.
Where did its name come from?
Bismuth comes from the Latin bisemutum, which itself comes from the German Wismuth, apparently meaning "white mass". That's a reference to a material mass and not to a religious service.
Where is it found?
It's found in many places, but usually in ores of elements more valuable than bismuth. The bismuth is separated from the other elements.
What are its uses?
Pure bismuth isn't very useful even if it is pretty.
It's heavily used in soldering -- that is, putting two pieces together with a molten metal that then cools and binds the two metal objects. Some of its alloys are used in printing type, as some of its special combinations with other metals melt at low temperatures for metals and can easily be re-used. Some of it appears (with other metals)in fire alarms. It also appears in very common medicines, including some intended to settle an upset stomach. Where lead cause trouble because it is poisonous (like sinkers for fishing), people are now often using bismuth instead.
Is it dangerous?
A fine powder of the metal can burn.
Most bismuth compounds are safe unless they are strongly acidic or contain something otherwise toxic. But you don't want to get too much of them. With any medicines, follow directions carefully.
It is very slightly radioactive -- but so slightly radioactive that it is less radioactive than some of the carbon and potassium in your cells, and its radioactivity does no real harm.