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Lanthanum, 57La
Pronunciation/ˈlænθənəm/ (LAN-thə-nəm)
Appearancesilvery white
Standard atomic weight Ar°(La)
Lanthanum in the periodic table
Hydrogen Helium
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Sodium Magnesium Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulfur Chlorine Argon
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
Caesium Barium Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury (element) Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine Radon
Francium Radium Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Roentgenium Copernicium Nihonium Flerovium Moscovium Livermorium Tennessine Oganesson


Heat of vaporization400 kJ/mol
Molar heat capacity27.11 J/(mol·K)
Vapor pressure (extrapolated)
P (Pa) 1 10 100 1 k 10 k 100 k
at T (K) 2005 2208 2458 2772 3178 3726
Atomic properties
Carl Gustaf Mosander (1838)
Isotopes of lanthanum
Main isotopes[8] Decay
abun­dance half-life (t1/2) mode pro­duct
137La synth 6×104 y ε
138La 0.089% 1.05×1011 y ε
139La 99.911%
 Category: Lanthanum
| references

Lanthanum is a

rare earth elements. Like most other rare earth elements, the usual oxidation state
is +3, although some compounds are known with an oxidation state of +2. Lanthanum has no biological role in humans but is essential to some bacteria. It is not particularly toxic to humans but does show some antimicrobial activity.

Lanthanum usually occurs together with

cerium nitrate – hence the name lanthanum, from the Ancient Greek λανθάνειν (lanthanein), meaning 'to lie hidden'. Although it is classified as a rare earth element, lanthanum is the 28th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, almost three times as abundant as lead. In minerals such as monazite and bastnäsite, lanthanum composes about a quarter of the lanthanide content.[9]
It is extracted from those minerals by a process of such complexity that pure lanthanum metal was not isolated until 1923.

Lanthanum compounds have numerous applications as catalysts, additives in glass, carbon arc lamps for studio lights and projectors, ignition elements in lighters and torches, electron cathodes, scintillators, gas tungsten arc welding electrodes, and other things. Lanthanum carbonate is used as a phosphate binder in cases of high levels of phosphate in the blood seen with kidney failure.



Lanthanum is the first element and prototype of the lanthanide series. In the periodic table, it appears to the right of the

stellar spectra.[18]

Among the lanthanides, lanthanum is exceptional as it has no 4f electrons as a single gas-phase atom. Thus it is only very weakly

paramagnetic, unlike the strongly paramagnetic later lanthanides (with the exceptions of the last two, ytterbium and lutetium, where the 4f shell is completely full).[19] However, the 4f shell of lanthanum can become partially occupied in chemical environments and participate in chemical bonding.[20][21] For example, the melting points of the trivalent lanthanides (all but europium and ytterbium) are related to the extent of hybridisation of the 6s, 5d, and 4f electrons (lowering with increasing 4f involvement),[22] and lanthanum has the second-lowest melting point among them: 920 °C. (Europium and ytterbium have lower melting points because they delocalise about two electrons per atom rather than three.)[23] This chemical availability of f orbitals justifies lanthanum's placement in the f-block despite its anomalous ground-state configuration[24][25] (which is merely the result of strong interelectronic repulsion making it less profitable to occupy the 4f shell, as it is small and close to the core electrons).[26]

The lanthanides become harder as the series is traversed: as expected, lanthanum is a soft metal. Lanthanum has a relatively high

body-centered cubic structure (γ-La).[28]


As expected from

rare earth elements, which is again expected from its being the largest of them.[33]

Some lanthanum(II) compounds are also known, but they are much less stable.[16] Therefore, in officially naming compounds of lanthanum its oxidation number always is to be mentioned.


chart of nuclides
showing stable isotopes (black) from barium (Z = 56) to neodymium (Z = 60)

Naturally occurring lanthanum is made up of two isotopes, the stable 139La and the

fission products of uranium.[34]


Lanthanum oxide is a white solid that can be prepared by direct reaction of its constituent elements. Due to the large size of the La3+ ion, La2O3 adopts a hexagonal 7-coordinate structure that changes to the 6-coordinate structure of scandium oxide (Sc2O3) and yttrium oxide (Y2O3) at high temperature. When it reacts with water, lanthanum hydroxide is formed:[36] a lot of heat is evolved in the reaction and a hissing sound is heard. Lanthanum hydroxide will react with atmospheric carbon dioxide to form the basic carbonate.[37]

deliquescent compounds. The anhydrous halides are produced by direct reaction of their elements, as heating the hydrates causes hydrolysis: for example, heating hydrated LaCl3 produces LaOCl.[37]

Lanthanum reacts exothermically with hydrogen to produce the dihydride LaH2, a black, pyrophoric, brittle, conducting compound with the calcium fluoride structure.[38] This is a non-stoichiometric compound, and further absorption of hydrogen is possible, with a concomitant loss of electrical conductivity, until the more salt-like LaH3 is reached.[37] Like LaI2 and LaI, LaH2 is probably an electride compound.[37]

Due to the large ionic radius and great electropositivity of La3+, there is not much covalent contribution to its bonding and hence it has a limited

chelating ligands such as in La2(SO4)3·9H2O, often have a low degree of symmetry because of stereo-chemical factors.[39]

Lanthanum chemistry tends not to involve π bonding due to the electron configuration of the element: thus its organometallic chemistry is quite limited. The best characterized organolanthanum compounds are the cyclopentadienyl complex La(C5H5)3, which is produced by reacting anhydrous LaCl3 with NaC5H5 in tetrahydrofuran, and its methyl-substituted derivatives.[40]


Carl Gustaf Mosander, the scientist who discovered lanthanum as well as terbium and erbium

In 1751, the Swedish mineralogist

cerium nitrate by roasting it in air and then treating the resulting oxide with dilute nitric acid.[45] That same year, Axel Erdmann
, a student also at the Karolinska Institute, discovered lanthanum in a new mineral from Låven island located in a Norwegian fjord.

Finally, Mosander explained his delay, saying that he had extracted a second element from cerium, and this he called didymium. Although he did not realise it, didymium too was a mixture, and in 1885 it was separated into praseodymium and neodymium.

Since lanthanum's properties differed only slightly from those of cerium, and occurred along with it in its salts, he named it from the Ancient Greek λανθάνειν [lanthanein] (lit. to lie hidden).[42] Relatively pure lanthanum metal was first isolated in 1923.[16]

Occurrence and production

Lanthanum makes up 39 mg/kg of the Earth's crust,[46][47]: 14  behind neodymium at 41.5 mg/kg and cerium at 66.5 mg/kg. Despite being among the so-called "rare earth metals", lanthanum is thus not rare at all, but it is historically so named because it is rarer than "common earths" such as lime and magnesia, and historically only a few deposits were known. Lanthanum is considered a rare earth metal because the process to mine it is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.[16] Lanthanum is rarely the dominant lanthanide found in the rare earth minerals, and in their chemical formulae it is usually preceded by cerium. Rare examples of La-dominant minerals are monazite-(La) and lanthanite-(La).[48]

Production of Lanthanum from Monazite sand

The La3+ ion is similarly sized to the early lanthanides of the cerium group (those up to samarium and europium) that immediately follow in the periodic table, and hence it tends to occur along with them in phosphate, silicate and carbonate minerals, such as monazite (MIIIPO4) and bastnäsite (MIIICO3F), where M refers to all the rare earth metals except scandium and the radioactive promethium (mostly Ce, La, and Y).[49] Bastnäsite is usually lacking in thorium and the heavy lanthanides, and the purification of the light lanthanides from it is less involved. The ore, after being crushed and ground, is first treated with hot concentrated sulfuric acid, evolving carbon dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, and silicon tetrafluoride: the product is then dried and leached with water, leaving the early lanthanide ions, including lanthanum, in solution.[50]

The procedure for monazite, which usually contains all the rare earths as well as thorium, is more involved. Monazite, because of its magnetic properties, can be separated by repeated electromagnetic separation. After separation, it is treated with hot concentrated sulfuric acid to produce water-soluble sulfates of rare earths. The acidic filtrates are partially neutralized with

ion-exchange techniques when higher purity is desired.[50]

Lanthanum metal is obtained from its oxide by heating it with ammonium chloride or fluoride and hydrofluoric acid at 300–400 °C to produce the chloride or fluoride:[16]

La2O3 + 6 NH4Cl → 2 LaCl3 + 6 NH3 + 3 H2O

This is followed by reduction with alkali or alkaline earth metals in vacuum or argon atmosphere:[16]

LaCl3 + 3 Li → La + 3 LiCl

Also, pure lanthanum can be produced by electrolysis of molten mixture of anhydrous LaCl3 and NaCl or KCl at elevated temperatures.[16]


white gas
lantern mantle burning at full brightness

The first historical application of lanthanum was in gas lantern mantles. Carl Auer von Welsbach used a mixture of lanthanum oxide and zirconium oxide, which he called Actinophor and patented in 1886. The original mantles gave a green-tinted light and were not very successful, and his first company, which established a factory in Atzgersdorf in 1887, failed in 1889.[51]

Modern uses of lanthanum include:

hot cathode
Comparison of infrared transmittance of ZBLAN glass and silica

Biological role

Lanthanum has no known biological role in humans. The element is very poorly absorbed after oral administration and when injected its elimination is very slow.

end stage renal disease.[69]

While lanthanum has pharmacological effects on several receptors and ion channels, its specificity for the

allosteric modulator. The lanthanum cation La3+ is a positive allosteric modulator at native and recombinant GABA receptors, increasing open channel time and decreasing desensitization in a subunit configuration dependent manner.[73]

Lanthanum is an essential cofactor for the methanol dehydrogenase of the

methanotrophic bacterium Methylacidiphilum fumariolicum SolV, although the great chemical similarity of the lanthanides means that it may be substituted with cerium, praseodymium, or neodymium without ill effects, and with the smaller samarium, europium, or gadolinium giving no side effects other than slower growth.[74]


GHS labelling:
GHS02: Flammable
P223, P231+P232, P370+P378, P422[75]
NFPA 704 (fire diamond)
NFPA 704 four-colored diamondHealth 0: Exposure under fire conditions would offer no hazard beyond that of ordinary combustible material. E.g. sodium chlorideFlammability 4: Will rapidly or completely vaporize at normal atmospheric pressure and temperature, or is readily dispersed in air and will burn readily. Flash point below 23 °C (73 °F). E.g. propaneInstability 2: Undergoes violent chemical change at elevated temperatures and pressures, reacts violently with water, or may form explosive mixtures with water. E.g. white phosphorusSpecial hazard W: Reacts with water in an unusual or dangerous manner. E.g. sodium, sulfuric acid

Lanthanum has a low to moderate level of toxicity and should be handled with care. The injection of lanthanum solutions produces hyperglycemia, low blood pressure, degeneration of the spleen and hepatic alterations.[citation needed] The application in carbon arc light led to the exposure of people to rare earth element oxides and fluorides, which sometimes led to pneumoconiosis.[76][77] As the La3+ ion is similar in size to the Ca2+ ion, it is sometimes used as an easily traced substitute for the latter in medical studies.[78] Lanthanum, like the other lanthanides, is known to affect human metabolism, lowering cholesterol levels, blood pressure, appetite, and risk of blood coagulation. When injected into the brain, it acts as a painkiller, similarly to morphine and other opiates, though the mechanism behind this is still unknown.[78] Lanthanum meant for ingestion, typically as a chewable tablet or oral powder, can interfere with gastrointestinal imaging by creating opacities throughout the GI tract; if chewable tablets are swallowed whole, they will dissolve but present initially as coin-shaped opacities in the stomach, potentially confused with ingested metal objects such as coins or batteries.[79]


The price for a (metric) ton [1000 kg] of Lanthanum oxide 99% (FOB China in USD/Mt) is given by the Institute of Rare Earths Elements and Strategic Metals as below $2,000 for most of the period from early 2001 to September 2010 (at $10,000 in the short term in 2008); it rose steeply to $140,000 in mid-2011 and fell back just as rapidly to $38,000 by early 2012.[80] The average price for the last six months (April to September 2022) is given by the Institute as follows: Lanthanum Oxide - 99.9%min FOB China - 1308 EUR/mt and for Lanthanum Metal - 99%min FOB China - 3706 EUR/mt.[81]


  1. ^ The thermal expansion of α-La is anisotropic: the parameters (at 20 °C) for each crystal axis are αa = 2.9×10−6/K, αc = 9.5×10−6/K, and αaverage = αV/3 = 5.1×10−6/K.[3]


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Further reading

  • The Industrial Chemistry of the Lanthanons, Yttrium, Thorium and Uranium, by R. J. Callow, Pergamon Press, 1967
  • Extractive Metallurgy of Rare Earths, by C. K. Gupta and N. Krishnamurthy, CRC Press, 2005
  • Nouveau Traite de Chimie Minerale, Vol. VII. Scandium, Yttrium, Elements des Terres Rares, Actinium, P. Pascal, Editor, Masson & Cie, 1959
  • Chemistry of the Lanthanons, by R. C. Vickery, Butterworths 1953