Scandium is a rare, silvery-white metal that was first discovered in 1879 by the Swedish chemist Lars Fredrik Nilson. It is the 21st element on the periodic table, with the symbol Sc and an atomic number of 21. Scandium is a relatively soft and lightweight metal, and is often classified as a transition metal due to its electron configuration and chemical properties.

Crystals of scandium.jpg
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Occurrence and Extraction

Scandium is a relatively rare element, with a crustal abundance of only about 22 ppm (parts per million). It is primarily found in minerals such as thortveitite, euxenite, and gadolinite, as well as in some rare earth minerals. The largest deposits of scandium are found in China, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

The extraction of scandium is a complex process that involves several steps. One of the most common methods involves the use of a solvent extraction process, in which scandium is separated from other elements by using a mixture of organic solvents. Other methods include precipitation, ion exchange, and electrowinning.

Properties and Uses

Scandium has a number of unique properties that make it useful in a variety of applications. For example, it has a relatively low density and a high melting point, which makes it an attractive material for aerospace applications. It is also a strong and ductile metal that is resistant to corrosion, making it useful for certain industrial and manufacturing applications.

One of the most important uses of scandium is in the production of aluminum alloys. When small amounts of scandium are added to aluminum, it can significantly improve the strength, ductility, and corrosion resistance of the alloy. This makes it useful in a variety of applications, such as aircraft and sports equipment.

Scandium is also used in some high-intensity lamps, such as those used in movie projectors and airport runway lights. It is also used in some medical applications, such as the production of radioactive isotopes for diagnostic imaging and cancer treatment.

Challenges and Future Outlook

One of the biggest challenges facing the wider use of scandium is its relatively high cost. Due to its rarity and the difficulty in extracting it from its ores, scandium can be up to 100 times more expensive than other common metals like aluminum and titanium. This has limited its use to high-end applications where its unique properties are particularly valuable.

However, as new sources of scandium are identified and extraction methods are improved, it is possible that the cost of the metal will come down, making it more accessible for a wider range of applications. In addition, ongoing research into the use of scandium in new applications, such as hydrogen fuel cells and electronic devices, could create new markets for the metal in the future.

Scandium electron configuration

The electron configuration of scandium is [Ar] 3d¹⁰ 4s² 3p⁰, or more commonly written as [Ar] 4s² 3d¹.

Electron shell 021 Scandium.svg
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This means that scandium has 21 electrons in total, with two in the outermost 4s orbital and nine in the 3d orbital.

The [Ar] notation indicates that the electron configuration of scandium is similar to that of the noble gas argon, with a completely filled 3p orbital.

How many valence electrons does scandium have?

  • Scandium has 3 valence electrons.
  • These are the electrons in the outermost energy level of the atom, specifically in the 4s orbital.
  • The 3d electrons in scandium are not considered to be valence electrons because they are located in a lower energy level than the 4s electrons.
  • The number of valence electrons in an atom can help determine its chemical reactivity and how it will interact with other elements.

Scandium uses summarized

Scandium has a number of important uses due to its unique properties. Here are some of the most common uses of scandium:


Use of Scandium

Aerospace Industry

High-strength, lightweight alloys for aircraft parts, rocket engine components, and missiles

Sports Equipment

High-end sports equipment, such as baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, and bicycle frames


Used in some high-intensity lamps, such as those used in movie projectors and airport runway lights

Medical Applications

Scandium-46 for diagnostic imaging and scandium-47 for cancer treatment

Research and Development

Used in research and development for a variety of applications, such as fuel cells, semiconductors, and electronic devices

Additive Manufacturing

Can strengthen aluminum alloys and improve printing quality in 3D printing

Production of High-end Bicycles

Creates lightweight and durable bicycle frames, preferred by professional riders and cycling enthusiasts

Physical and chemical properties of scandium



Atomic number


Atomic mass

44.96 u

Melting point

1,541 °C

Boiling point

2,836 °C


2.985 g/cm³

State at room temperature




Electrical conductivity


Thermal conductivity


Reactivity with oxygen

Forms Sc2O3

Reactivity with water

Reacts slowly to form hydrogen gas

Reactivity with acids

Reacts with dilute acids to form hydrogen gas

Valence electrons


Electron configuration

[Ar] 4s² 3d¹

Scandium oxide (Sc2O3):

Scandium oxide is a white, odorless powder that is used in the production of high-strength ceramics and glass. It is also used as a catalyst in organic chemistry reactions, and as a component in some types of fuel cells. Scandium oxide is produced by heating scandium hydroxide or scandium oxalate to high temperatures, causing it to decompose into scandium oxide and water or carbon dioxide. Scandium oxide is a rare earth oxide, and its properties and uses are similar to those of other rare earth oxides.

Scandium phosphate (ScPO4):

Scandium phosphate is a white, odorless powder that is used in the production of ceramics, glass, and electronics. It is a type of rare earth phosphate, and has similar properties to other rare earth phosphates. Scandium phosphate is formed by reacting scandium oxide with phosphoric acid, and is often used as a precursor to other scandium compounds.

Scandium borate (ScBO3):

Scandium borate is a crystal that is often used as a scintillator in medical imaging and radiation detection. It is also used in the production of blue and green laser diodes, due to its unique optical properties. Scandium borate is formed by reacting scandium oxide with boric acid, and is often doped with other elements to enhance its properties.

Scandium perchlorate (Sc(ClO4)3):

Scandium perchlorate is a white, crystalline powder that is often used as an oxidizer in rocket fuel and other high-performance explosives. It is highly reactive and can release oxygen quickly, making it a useful component in many types of combustion reactions. Scandium perchlorate is formed by reacting scandium oxide with perchloric acid, and is often combined with other oxidizers to create more powerful fuel mixtures.

Scandium aluminum alloy

Scandium aluminum alloy, also known as ScAl, is an alloy that combines scandium with aluminum to create a high-strength, lightweight material. Scandium is added to aluminum in small amounts (usually less than 1%) to improve its mechanical properties, particularly its strength and ductility. This makes it ideal for use in aerospace, automotive, and sports equipment applications, where weight reduction and high strength are critical.

The addition of scandium to aluminum enhances the microstructure of the alloy, resulting in a finer grain size and improved strength. Scandium also forms stable intermetallic compounds with aluminum, which act as nucleation sites for the formation of the fine grain structure. This improves the strength and ductility of the aluminum, while reducing its susceptibility to cracking and fatigue failure.

Scandium aluminum alloy is commonly used in the production of aerospace components, such as aircraft frames, wings, and landing gear. The alloy’s high strength-to-weight ratio and fatigue resistance make it ideal for these applications. It is also used in the automotive industry for lightweight, high-performance wheels and other parts, and in sports equipment such as baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, and bicycle frames.

Although scandium aluminum alloy is more expensive than traditional aluminum alloys, its superior mechanical properties and lightweight nature make it a popular choice for high-performance applications. Ongoing research into scandium and its alloys could lead to further innovations and applications in the future.

Reactions for Scandium

Scandium is a reactive metal that can undergo various reactions with different compounds.

Reaction with oxygen:

Scandium reacts with oxygen to form scandium oxide.

2Sc(s) + 3O2(g) → 2Sc2O3(s)

Reaction with water:

Scandium reacts slowly with water to produce hydrogen gas and scandium hydroxide.

2Sc(s) + 6H2O(l) → 2Sc(OH)3(s) + 3H2(g)

Reaction with acids:

Scandium reacts with dilute acids to produce hydrogen gas and a corresponding salt.

2Sc(s) + 6HCl(aq) → 2ScCl3(aq) + 3H2(g)

Reaction with halogens:

Scandium reacts with halogens (such as chlorine or bromine) to form the corresponding

scandium halides.

2Sc(s) + 3Cl2(g) → 2ScCl3(s)

2Sc(s) + 3Br2(g) → 2ScBr3(s)

Reduction reactions:

Scandium can be reduced by strong reducing agents, such as lithium aluminum hydride, to form scandium metal.

ScCl3(s) + 3LiAlH4(s) → Sc(s) + 3LiCl(s) + 3AlH3(s)

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