Glas vial of vanadium, 19th-20th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Vanadium, atomic number 23 in the periodic table, is a soft, ductile, silver-grey metal. In its properties it resembles chromium, and is used to add tensile strength to steel alloys. It resists attack by hydrochloric and sulphuric acids, saltwater or alkalis. Vanadium is only found in nature in combination with other elements in minerals. It was discovered by the Spanish mineralogist Andres del Rio (1764-1849) and the Swedish chemist Nils Sefstrom (1787-1845) independently of each other. Del Rio called the element erythronium in 1801, but was persuaded by other chemists that he had not discovered a new element. In 1831, Sefstrom discovered the metal and named it after the Norse goddes of love and beauty, Vanadis.