Pitchblende

Pitchblende is a term that has been in use in the English language since 1770, long before the usefulness of the material was discovered. We will examine the definition of the word pitchblende, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Pitchblende is high-density mineral that is also known as uraninite, the radioactive mineral ore from which uranium is extracted. Uranium is a naturally occurring chemical element with an atomic number of 92 on the periodic table. Martin Heinrich Klaproth used pitchblende in order to discover uranium in 1789, which he named in honor of the newly discovered planet, Uranus. The ways in which this uranium ore could be utilized were not apparent until nearly one hundred and fifty years later. Marie Curie studied radioactivity and radioactive decay, isolating radium in her studies. Madame Curie used vast quantities of pitchblende in her experiments, dying of aplastic anemia due to her exposure to radiation in these minerals. Pitchblende consists of uranium, radium, thorium, polonium, lead and trace amounts of helium and the rare earth elements, yttrium and scandium. Pitchblende is a dark or brown mineral that resembles pitch, a viscous tar, and is often found occurring as a deposit in veins of quartz or silver ore.  Dating back to ancient Roman times, pitchblende was mined and used to color glass or ceramics in yellow hues. Surprisingly, natural uranium oxide was used in coloring  ceramics into the 1940s. A famous example is the Fiesta dinnerware or Fiestaware that was produced by Homer Laughlin China Company, beginning in 1936. Dishes produced in red hues at that time are to this day, still slightly radioactive. The company stopped using natural uranium oxide in 1944, discontinuing its red dinnerware. The red Fiestaware was brought back into production in 1959 using depleted uranium, posing no radiation risk. Today, mining of pitchblende is mainly for extraction of uranium for use in nuclear weapons and for nuclear fuel to be used in the atomic energy industry. The pitchblende rocks are processed into a radioactive concentration known as yellowcake. It takes tons of pitchblende ores in order to produce this yellowcake. Uranium mines and uranium mining is not terribly widespread, though there are mines in Shinkolobwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Great Bear Lake and the Athabasca Basin in Canada, the Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia,  Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, United States. It was the Shinkolobwe mine that provided the pitchblende that fueled the Manhattan Project in the United States, which resulted in the first nuclear weapons that leveled Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, ending World War II. Placing nitric acid on pitchblende makes it become fluorescent. The word pitchblende is an Anglicization of the German word  pechblende, pech being the German word for pitch.

Examples

The pair sifted through tons of pitchblende – exposing them to dangerous doses of radiation – to extract the hypothetical substance. (The Week)

It can be found in some soils and rocks – like granite, shale, phosphate, pitchblende – at high concentrations, but most soil contains enough to pose a concern under certain circumstances, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (The Daily Herald)

One hundred years ago, Marie Curie won her second Nobel Prize, in chemistry, for her 1898 discovery of the elements polonium and radium, which she had painstakingly isolated from a radioactive uranium ore called pitchblende. (Smithsonian Magazine)

When Cowger waved it over one of the black rocks, the needle pegged; Steen hadn’t recognized the core as pitchblende, an even purer form of uraninite that early gold prospectors despised because it gummed up their equipment. (Car and Driver Magazine)