Discovery of element Nickel


Nickel has very much in common with Cobalt, its neighbour in the periodic table. First of all, Nickel is also of “devilish” origin. Its name derives from the German “kupfer–nickel” (“copper devil”) and belongs to the mineral described in 1694 by the Swedish mineralogist U. Hierne, who mistook it for copper ore.

When repeated attempts to smelt copper from it failed, the metallurgists decided that it must have been Nick, the evil spirit of the mountains, at his tricks.

People came to know Nickel ages ago. Back in the 3rd century B.C the Chinese made an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc. In the Central Asian state of Bactria coins were made from this alloy. One of them is now in the British Museum in London.

Confusion about the composition of kupfernickel remained even after the mineral had been described. In 1726 the German chemist I. Link studied the mineral  and established that its dissolution in nitric acid yields a green colour. He concluded that the mineral was most probably a cobalt ore with admixtures of copper. When Swedish miners found a reddish mineral which, being added to glass, did not produce a blue colour, they named it “cobold that had lost his soul”. It was also one of the nickel minerals.

That was how matters stood up to 1751. That year the Swedish mineralogist and chemist A. Cronstedt took an interest in the mineral found in a cobalt mine. In one of his experiments he immersed a small piece of iron into an acid solution of this ore. Had copper been present in the solution, it would have been deposited on iron in a free state. To his great surprise nothing of the kind happened. The solution did not contain copper. This contradicted the existing beliefs about this ore. Cronstedt began a thorough investigation of the green crystals dispersed in the ore. After a great number of experiments, he isolated a metal from kupfernickel which did not resemble copper at all. Cronstedt described this metal as solid and brittle, weakly attracted by a magnet, transforming into a black powder when heated, and yielding a wonderful green colour upon dissolution. Cronstedt concluded that, since the metal was contained in kupfernickel, the name could be retained and shortened to nickel. At present it is known that kupfernickel is nickel arsenide.

Many chemists in Europe recognized that a new element had been discovered. But some scientists held that nickel was mixture of cobalt, iron, arsenic and copper. All doubts were removed in 1775 by T. Bergman who showed that mixtures of these elements taken in any proportions did not possess the properties of Nickel.