LITHIUM [symbol Li, atomic weight 7-00 (O=i6)], an alkali metal, discovered in 1817 by J. A. Arfvedson (Ann. Mm. phys. 10, p. 82). It is only found in combination, and is a constituent of the minerals petalite, triphyline, spodumene and lepidolite or lithia mica. It occurs in small quantities in sea, river and spring water, and is also widely but very sparingly distributed throughout the vegetable kingdom. It may be obtained (in the form of its chloride) by fusing lepidolite with a mixture of barium carbonate and sulphate, and potassium sulphate (L. Troost, Comptes rendus, 1856, 43, p. 921). The fused mass separates into two layers, the upper of which contains a mixture of potassium and lithium sulphates; this is lixiviated with water and converted into the mixed chlorides by adding barium chloride, the solution evaporated and the lithium chloride extracted by a mixture of dry alcohol and ether. The metal may be obtained by heating dry lithium hydroxide with magnesium (H. N. Warren, Chem. News, 1896, 74, p. 6). L. Kahlenberg (Jour. phys. Chem., 3, p. 601) obtained it by electrolysing the chloride in pyridine solution, a carbon anode and an iron or platinum cathode being used. O. Ruff and O. Johannsen (Zeit. elektrochem., 1906, 55, p. 537) electrolyse a mixture of bromide and chloride which melts at 520. It is a soft, silvery- 1 Mommsen in C.I.L. x. 343 does not accept this statement, but an inscription found in 1885 confirms it.
white metal, which readily tarnishes on exposure. Its specific gravity is 0-59, and it melts at 180 C. It burns on ignition, in air, and when strongly heated in an atmosphere of nitrogen it forms lithium nitride, LisN. It decomposes water at ordinary temperature, liberating hydrogen and forming lithium hydroxide.
Lithium hydride, LiH, obtained by heating the metal in a current of hydrogen at a red heat, or by heating the metal with ethylene to 700 C. (M. Guntz, Comptes rendus, 1896, 122, p. 244; 123, p. 1273). is a white solid which inflames when heated in chlorine. With alcohol it forms lithium ethylate, LiOC 2 H 6 , with liberation of hydrogen. Lithium oxide, Li 2 O, is obtained by burning the metal in oxygen, or by ignition of the nitrate. It is a white powder which readily dissolves in water to form the hydroxide, LiuH, which is also obtained by boiling the carbonate with milk of lime. It forms a white caustic mass, resembling sodium hydroxide in appearance. It absorbs carbon dioxide, but is not deliquescent. Lithium chloride LiCl, prepared by heating the metal in chlorine, or by dissolving the oxide or carbonate in hydrochloric acid, is exceedingly deliquescent, melts below a red heat, and is very soluble in alcohol. Lithium carbonate, Li 2 CO 3 , obtained as a white amorphous precipitate by adding sodium carbonate to a solution of lithium chloride, is sparingly soluble in water. Lithium phosphate, LisPOi, obtained by the addition of sodium phosphate to a soluble lithium salt in the presence of sodium hydroxide, is almost insoluble in water. Lithium ammonium, LiNHs, is obtained by passing ammonia gas over lithium, the product being heated to 70 C. in order to expel any excess of ammonia. It turns brown-red on exposure to air, and is inflammable. It is decomposed by water evolving hydrogen, and when heated in vacua at 5p-6o C. it gives lithium and ammonia. With ammonia solution it gives hydrogen and lithiamide, LiNH 2 (H. Moissan, ibid., 1898, 127, p. 685). Lithium carbide, Li 2 C 2 , obtained by heating lithium carbonate and carbon in the electric furnace, forms a transparent crystalline mass of specific gravity 1-65, and is readily decomposed by cold water giving acetylene (H. Moissan, ibid., 1896, 122, p. 362).
Lithium is detected by the faint yellow line of wave-length 6104, and the bright red line of wave-length 6708, shown in its flame spectrum. It may be distinguished from sodium and potassium by the sparing solubility of its carbonate and phosphate. The atomic weight of lithium was determined by J. S. Stas from the analysis of the chloride, and also by conversion of the chloride into the nitrate, the value obtained being 7-03 (O = 16).
The preparations of lithium used in medicine are: Lithii Carbonis, dose 2 to 5 grs. ; Lithii Citras, dose 5 to 10 grs. ; and Lithii Citras effervescens, a mixture of citric acid, lithium citrate, tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate, dose 60 to 120 grs. Lithium salts render the urine alkaline and are in virtue of their action diuretic. They are much prescribed for acute or chronic gout, and as a solvent to uric acid calculi or gravel, but their action as a solvent of uric acid has been certainly overrated, as it has been shown that the addition of medicinal doses of lithium to the blood serum does not increase the solubility of uric acid in it. In concentrated or large doses lithium salts cause vomiting and diarrhoea, due to a gastro-enteritis set up by their action. In medicinal use they should therefore be always freely diluted.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)