Cadmium Element Facts

The chemical element cadmium is classed as a transition metal. It was discovered in 1817 by Friedrich Stromeyer.

A small ball of cadmium metal, with a coin for size reference.

Data Zone

Classification: Cadmium is a transition metal
Color: bluish-white
Atomic weight: 112.41
State: solid
Melting point: 321.1 oC, 594.3 K
Boiling point: 765 oC, 1038 K
Electrons: 48
Protons: 48
Neutrons in most abundant isotope: 66
Electron shells: 2,8,18,18,2
Electron configuration: [Kr] 4d10 5s2
Density @ 20oC: 8.65 g/cm3
Show more, including: Heats, Energies, Oxidation, Reactions, Compounds, Radii, Conductivities
Atomic volume: 13.1 cm3/mol
Structure: hcp: hexagonal close packed
Hardness: 2.0 mohs
Specific heat capacity 0.23 J g-1 K-1
Heat of fusion 6.192 kJ mol-1
Heat of atomization 112 kJ mol-1
Heat of vaporization 99.87 kJ mol-1
1st ionization energy 867.7 kJ mol-1
2nd ionization energy 1631.4 kJ mol-1
3rd ionization energy 3616.2 kJ mol-1
Electron affinity
Minimum oxidation number 0
Min. common oxidation no. 0
Maximum oxidation number 2
Max. common oxidation no. 2
Electronegativity (Pauling Scale) 1.69
Polarizability volume 7.2 Å3
Reaction with air mild, w/ht ⇒ CdO
Reaction with 15 M HNO3 mild ⇒ Cd(NO3)2, NOx
Reaction with 6 M HCl mild, ⇒ H2, CdCl2
Reaction with 6 M NaOH none
Oxide(s) CdO, CdO2
Hydride(s) CdH2
Chloride(s) CdCl2
Atomic radius 151 pm
Ionic radius (1+ ion)
Ionic radius (2+ ion) 109 pm
Ionic radius (3+ ion)
Ionic radius (1- ion)
Ionic radius (2- ion)
Ionic radius (3- ion)
Thermal conductivity 96.6 W m-1 K-1
Electrical conductivity 14.7 x 106 S m-1
Freezing/Melting point: 321.1 oC, 594.3 K

Friedrich Stromeyer

Friedrich Stromeyer, who discovered cadmium in 1817.

Cadmium’s Periodic Table Neighborhood

Cadmium’s chemistry is similar to zinc’s and they are found in the same ores. Zinc sits above cadmium in the periodic table. Like mercury below it, cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic.

Some chemists don’t regard cadmium as a true transition metal, because it has a full shell of d electrons. The IUPAC definition of a transition metal is one whose atoms have an incomplete d sub-shell, or which can give rise to cations with an incomplete d sub-shell. By this definition, cadmium, whose ions have incomplete d electron shells, is a transition metal.

Discovery of Cadmium

Dr. Doug Stewart

Cadmium was discovered by German chemist Friedrich Stromeyer in 1817 as an impurity in zinc oxide. (1)

Stromeyer made his discovery after a request from the government to inspect the pharmacies in the town of Hildesheim, Germany.

In those days zinc oxide was used, as it still is, to treat skin conditions. For some reason, Hildesheim’s pharmacies were selling zinc carbonate rather than the usual zinc oxide.

Stromeyer was aware that heating zinc carbonate until it was red hot would convert it to the oxide. He did this with samples from the pharmacies. He found that the brilliant white carbonate turned into an oxide which ought to have been white, but was in fact yellow/orange.

Normally this color would suggest iron or lead contamination, but Stromeyer could not find any trace of these elements.

He visited the factory in Salzgitter where the pharmacies had bought the zinc carbonate. He asked why they were selling zinc carbonate instead of the usual oxide.

The manager explained to him that their zinc carbonate was the expected color – white – and it was easy to sell.

When they tried to convert the carbonate to the oxide by heating, it always turned yellow. Since zinc oxide ought to be white, they could not sell it. They had analyzed it carefully for iron contamination, but could find none.

Stromeyer then decided he would analyze this yellow zinc oxide carefully himself. He found the yellow color was caused by “the presence of a peculiar metallic oxide, the existence of which had not hitherto been suspected.”

He extracted this new metal oxide from the zinc oxide and then reduced it to isolate the world’s first ever cadmium metal. He likened its appearance to platinum’s and measured its density as 8.75 g/cm3 – very close to today’s accepted value.

He did further work and found that other zinc compounds also contained his new metal. He analyzed ‘pure’ zinc metal, and found his new metal was present even in this.

He estimated that the new metal was present at between 0.1% and 1% in zinc and its compounds, from which he was able to isolate 3 grams of pure cadmium metal.

Stromeyer suggested the name of cadmium after ‘cadmia,’ the Latin name for calamine. Calamine is an old name for a zinc ore.

Cadmium was independently discovered by German chemist Karl Hermann in 1818. Hermann had noticed an unexpected yellow color in zinc sulfide. The yellow was assumed to be from arsenic impurities, but Hermann realized that it was actually due to a previously unknown element. (2)


Cadmium telluride is used to make thin film solar cells, which can absorb more than 90% of visible light. Image: NREL


Magnesium impurities in cadmiumselenium nanocrystals at two different gap levels: (a) resonant and (b) hybrid. Image: NERSC)


Appearance and Characteristics

Harmful effects:

Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic.


Cadmium is a soft, malleable, ductile, bluish-white metal, which is easily cut with a knife. It is an excellent electrical conductor and shows good resistance to corrosion and attack by chemicals.

It is similar in many respects to zinc in its chemical properties.

Cadmium tarnishes in air and is soluble in acids but not in alkalis.

The metal burns in air to form brown cadmium oxide (CdO).

Uses of Cadmium

Cadmium’s major use is in batteries (especially rechargeable nickelcadmium, NiCad, batteries).

As a result of its low coefficient of friction and its high fatigue resistance, cadmium is used in alloys for bearings. Cadmium is used in low melting alloys and is a component of many kinds of solder. It is also is used in electroplating.

Compounds containing cadmium are used in black and white television phosphors, and in the blue and green phosphors for color television picture tubes. Cadmium sulfide is used as a yellow pigment, and cadmium selenide is used as a red pigment, often called cadmium red.

Cadmium and tellurium can be compounded into CdTe thin-film photovoltaic modules whose physical characteristics are ideal for solar cell production. They are relatively low cost and have an almost perfect bandgap for solar energy harvesting.

Abundance and Isotopes

Abundance earth’s crust: 150 parts per billion by weight, 30 parts per billion by moles

Abundance solar system: 6 parts per billion by weight, 70 parts per trillion by moles

Cost, pure: $46 per 100g

Cost, bulk: $0.77 per 100g

Source: Cadmium most often occurs in small quantities associated with zinc ores, such as sphalerite (ZnS). Greenockite (CdS) is the only cadmium mineral of any consequence. Almost all cadmium is obtained as a by-product of zinc, copper, and lead ore refining operations.

Isotopes: Cadmium has 34 isotopes whose half-lives are known, with mass numbers from 97 to 130. Naturally occurring cadmium is a mixture of eight stable isotopes and they are found in the percentages shown:: 106Cd (1.6%), 108Cd (0.9%), 110Cd (12.5%), 111Cd (12.8%), 112Cd (24.1%), 113Cd (12.2%), 114Cd (28.7%) and 116Cd (7.5%).


1. Friedrich Stromeyer, Annals of Philosophy, edited by Thomas Thomson, Volume XIII, 1819, Robert Baldwin, p108

2. J.W. Mellor, A Comprehensive Treatise in Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry, Volume IV, 1929, Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., p404

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  1. this works but why doesnt it give properties??

    • The properties are given in the data zone near the top of the page and also in the appearance and characteristics part.

  2. How much does it cost to buy 1 gram of Cadmium?

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