Bismuth Element Facts

The chemical element bismuth is classed as an other metal. It was discovered in 1753 by Claude Geoffroy the Younger.

A crystal of bismuth.
Bismuth Crystal

A crystal of bismuth. The colors come from light interference in a thin oxide layer on the surface of the crystal. Image Ref. (1)


Data Zone

Classification: Bismuth is an ‘other metal’
Color: silver-white
Atomic weight: 208.9804
State: solid
Melting point: 271.4 oC, 544.5 K
Boiling point: 1564 oC, 1837 K
Electrons: 83
Protons: 83
Neutrons in most abundant isotope: 126
Electron shells: 2,8,18,32,18,5
Electron configuration: [Xe] 4f14 5d10 6s2 6p3
Density @ 20oC: 9.807 g/cm3
Show more, including: Heats, Energies, Oxidation, Reactions, Compounds, Radii, Conductivities
Atomic volume: 21.3 cm3/mol
Structure: rhombohedral
Hardness: 2.25 mohs
Specific heat capacity 0.123 J g-1 K-1
Heat of fusion 11.3 kJ mol-1
Heat of atomization 207 kJ mol-1
Heat of vaporization 151 kJ mol-1
1st ionization energy 703 kJ mol-1
2nd ionization energy 1610 kJ mol-1
3rd ionization energy 2466 kJ mol-1
Electron affinity 91 kJ mol-1
Minimum oxidation number -3
Min. common oxidation no. 0
Maximum oxidation number 5
Max. common oxidation no. 3
Electronegativity (Pauling Scale) 2.02
Polarizability volume 7.4 Å3
Reaction with air mild, w/ht ⇒ Bi2O3
Reaction with 15 M HNO3 mild ⇒ Bi(NO3)3, NOx
Reaction with 6 M HCl none
Reaction with 6 M NaOH none
Oxide(s) Bi2O3
Hydride(s) BiH3
Chloride(s) BiCl3, BiCl4
Atomic radius 160 pm
Ionic radius (1+ ion)
Ionic radius (2+ ion)
Ionic radius (3+ ion) 117 pm
Ionic radius (1- ion)
Ionic radius (2- ion)
Ionic radius (3- ion)
Thermal conductivity 7.92 W m-1 K-1
Electrical conductivity 0.867 x 106 S m-1
Freezing/Melting point: 271.4 oC, 544.5 K

Discovery of Bismuth

Dr. Doug Stewart

Bismuth has been known since the fifteenth century.

In 1753, French chemist Claude Geoffroy the Younger established that it was an element in its own right rather than a form of lead.

Bismuth is considered to be stable, although it is actually radioactive with an extremely slow rate of decay.

If precisely 100 grams of bismuth-209 had been present at the beginning of the universe 14 billion years ago, about 99.9999999 grams of it would still be around today.

The name bismuth is probably a latinized version of the old German word for bismuth ‘weissmuth’ meaning ‘white substance’, possibly named after its white oxide.

A cube of bismuth sits between two bismuth plates. A large neodymium magnet is held above the plates and cube. Bismuth is diamagnetic; this means it produces a magnetic field in opposition to any applied magnetic field. Here bismuth opposes the neodymium magnet’s magnetic field, with the result that the cube floats in the air. Carbon in its graphite form is also diamagnetic.

Appearance and Characteristics

Harmful effects:

Bismuth is not known to be toxic.


Bismuth is a crystalline, brittle, metal. Lying on the right side of the periodic table, bismuth is the most naturally diamagnetic metal; this means it resists being magnetized and is repelled by a magnetic field. One effect of this can be seen in the video (left).

Bismuth also has unusually high electrical resistance for a metal. Its thermal conductivity is lower than any metal, except mercury.

Bismuth has the unusual property that (like water) it expands as it freezes. Four other elements expand when they freeze: silicon, gallium, antimony and germanium.

Uses of Bismuth

Bismuth is used in medicine (bismuth subnitrate and subcarbonate), cosmetics (bismuth oxychloride), low-melting alloys, fire detection/extinguishing systems, replacement for lead in shot and bullets (bismuth-tin alloy).

Abundance and Isotopes

Abundance earth’s crust: 9 parts per billion by weight, 0.7 parts per billion by moles

Abundance solar system: 10 parts per billion by weight, 0.07 parts per billion by moles

Cost, pure: $39 per 100g

Cost, bulk: $2.83 per 100g

Source: Commercially, bismuth is produced as a byproduct of refining copper, lead, tin, silver, gold, and zinc ores.

Isotopes: Bismuth has 33 isotopes with mass numbers ranging from 185 to 217. Of these only 209Bi is considered to be effectively stable, although it is actually radioactive with an extremely slow rate of alpha particle decay: its half-life is 1.9 x 1019 years. If precisely 100 grams of 209Bi had been present at the beginning of the universe 14 billion years ago, 99.9999999 grams of it would still be around today.


1. Photo by Micha L. Rieser

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