Platinum Compounds - History


The metal was used by pre-Columbian Americans near modern-day Esmeraldas, Ecuador to produce artifacts of a white gold-platinum alloy. The first European reference to platinum appears in 1557 in the writings of the Italian humanist Julius Caesar Scaliger as a description of an unknown noble metal found between Darién and Mexico, "which no fire nor any Spanish artifice has yet been able to liquefy."

In 1741, Charles Wood, a British metallurgist, found various samples of Colombian platinum in Jamaica, which he sent to William Brownrigg for further investigation. Antonio de Ulloa, also credited with the discovery of platinum, returned to Spain from the French Geodesic Mission in 1746 after having been there for eight years. His historical account of the expedition included a description of platinum as being neither separable nor calcinable. Ulloa also anticipated the discovery of platinum mines. After publishing the report in 1748, Ulloa did not continue to investigate the new metal. In 1758, he was sent to superintend mercury mining operations in Huancavelica.

In 1750, after studying the platinum sent to him by Wood, Brownrigg presented a detailed account of the metal to the Royal Society, mentioning that he had seen no mention of it in any previous accounts of known minerals. Brownrigg also made note of platinum's extremely high melting point and refractoriness toward borax. Other chemists across Europe soon began studying platinum, including Andreas Sigismund Marggraf Torbern Bergman, Jöns Jakob Berzelius, William Lewis, and Pierre Macquer. In 1752, Henrik Scheffer published a detailed scientific description of the metal, which he referred to as "white gold", including an account of how he succeeded in fusing platinum ore with the aid of arsenic. Scheffer described platinum as being less pliable than gold, but with similar resistance to corrosion.

Carl von Sickingen researched platinum extensively in 1772. He succeeded in making malleable platinum by alloying it with gold, dissolving the alloy in hot aqua regia, precipitating the platinum with ammonium chloride, igniting the ammonium chloroplatinate, and hammering the resulting finely divided platinum to make it cohere. Franz Karl Achard made the first platinum crucible in 1784. He worked with the platinum by fusing it with arsenic, then later volatilizing the arsenic.

Since the other platinum family members were not discovered yet (platinum was the first in the list), Scheffer and Sickingen made the false assumption that due to its hardness – which is slightly more than for pure iron – platinum was a relatively non pliable material, even brittle at times, when in fact its ductility and malleability are close to that of gold. Their assumptions could not be avoided since the platinum they experimented with was highly contaminated with minute amounts of the platinum family elements such as Osmium and Iridium amongst others, which embrittled the platinum alloy. Alloying this impure platinum residue called "plyoxen" with gold was the only solution at the time to obtain a pliable compound, but nowadays, very pure platinum is available and extremely long wire can be drawn from pure platinum, very easily, due to its crystalline structure which is similar to that of many soft metals.

In 1786, Charles III of Spain provided a library and laboratory to Pierre-François Chabaneau to aid in his research of platinum. Chabaneau succeeded in removing various impurities from the ore, including gold, mercury, lead, copper, and iron. This led him to believe he was working with a single metal, but in truth the ore still contained the yet-undiscovered platinum group metals. This led to inconsistent results in his experiments. At times, the platinum seemed malleable, but when it was alloyed with iridium, it would be much more brittle. Sometimes the metal was entirely incombustible, but when alloyed with osmium, it would volatilize. After several months, Chabaneau succeeded in producing 23 kilograms of pure, malleable platinum by hammering and compressing the sponge form while white-hot. Chabeneau realized the infusibility of platinum would lend value to objects made of it, and so started a business with Joaquín Cabezas producing platinum ingots and utensils. This started what is known as the "platinum age" in Spain.

In 2007, Gerhard Ertl won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for determining the detailed molecular mechanisms of the catalytic oxidation of carbon monoxide over platinum (catalytic converter).

Read more about this topic:  Platinum Compounds

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