Missile guidance system platform made from beryllium

It’s an ugly gray metal, quite dull in appearance, and not at all impressive to look at. Its history goes back to 1797 when a chemist named Vauquelin discovered it to be a constituent of the minerals beryl and emerald. Soluble compounds of the element tasted sweet, resulting in it being called glucinium from the Greek glykys, meaning sweet. Quarrels and controversy over its proper name characterized the 19th century and it wasn’t until 1957 that the IUPAC officially recognized it as beryllium with its chemical symbol of Be.

Though never accused of being attractive, the metal does have some amazing qualities: You notice the first of these as soon as you pick it up; it’s just two-thirds the density of aluminum. At the same time it’s six times stiffer than steel. Its low density, high melting point, good thermal conductivity, and excellent thermal capacity has resulted in many aerospace and nuclear industry applications. Its good scattering and low absorption cross-sections for neutrons make it especially appealing to the latter. Production escalated after the creation of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950’s. Though useful in its elemental state, beryllium acquires even more favorable qualities when alloyed with other elements. For example, adding beryllium to commercial copper and nickel based alloys enables those materials to be precipitation-hardened to strengths equaling heat-treated steel while still retaining all of the desirable qualities of copper. All things considered, it’s a truly remarkable and versatile metal.

Beryllium is noteworthy in another way as well: Though rare on Earth (4-6 ppm), there shouldn’t be any at all. Astrophysicists have spent much time and effort over many years, to come to an understanding of how the elements came into existence. With still a few unanswered questions, they never-the-less are becoming increasingly confident with their models. Those models begin with the expansion following the Big Bang; energy condensed to form quarks, which then combined to create protons and neutrons for the light elements of hydrogen, helium and some lithium. A second model demonstrates how elements from atomic number 4, beryllium, through number 26, iron, were created in the interiors of ordinary stars by various nuclear fusion processes. Then in a third we learn how the remaining elements formed from the cataclysmic forces of supernova events, those events also being the means by which the elements were returned to the interstellar medium for recycling into future planets, stars, you and me, and everything else we can see and touch.