Gallium is a chemical element with the symbol Ga and atomic number 31. It is a soft, silvery metal that is in the same group as aluminum in the periodic table. Gallium has a low melting point, which is just above room temperature, making it a unique element with some interesting properties. One of those properties is it can quickly turn the Aluminum housing of a lock into a brittle chalk like substance.
When gallium comes into contact with aluminum, a process called liquid metal embrittlement (LME) can occur. LME refers to a phenomenon where the presence of liquid metal, such as gallium, causes a normally ductile metal, like a aluminum pad lock, to become brittle and prone to fracture (read destroys the padlock). This destruction is a result of the interaction between the liquid metal and the solid metal lattice of the padlock.
When gallium is in contact with aluminum, it can diffuse into the aluminum lattice, causing localized changes in the crystal structure. This diffusion process weakens the metallic bonds within the aluminum lattice, disrupting its normal cohesive properties. As a result, the affected aluminum region loses its ductility and becomes brittle.
The exact mechanism of LME is not really understood (we called around but it seems no one is really sure as to how it works into the crystal structure), but it is believed to involve the formation of intermetallic compounds between gallium and aluminum, as well as the segregation of gallium along grain boundaries. It basically seeps into the Aluminum creating a new much softer metal.
It's worth noting that LME is a specific phenomenon observed when gallium comes into contact with aluminum, and it may not occur with other liquid metals or in all metal combinations. The severity of embrittlement depends on factors such as temperature, contact time, and the specific composition of the metals involved. So if you wish to test this out make sure the lock you are sacrificing has an aluminum body.
Like every great article this one is in need of a legal statement.
Legal Statement: The information provided here is intended for educational purposes only. While every effort has been made to ensure its accuracy, the author and SPARROWS Manufacturing assume no responsibility for any injuries, damages, or losses incurred as a result of using or misusing the information provided. It is your responsibility to follow proper safety protocols, consult relevant safety data sheets, and adhere to local regulations when handling and storing gallium or any other hazardous materials.
Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Gallium
Section 1: Identification
Product Name: Gallium
Chemical Formula: Ga
CAS Number: 7440-55-3
Recommended Use: Industrial applications, research, and educational purposes
Section 2: Hazards Identification
- Skin Corrosion/Irritation: Category 1B
- Eye Damage/Irritation: Category 1
- Specific Target Organ Toxicity (Single Exposure): Category 3
- Skin Contact: Causes severe skin burns and irritation.
- Eye Contact: Causes severe eye damage and irritation.
- Inhalation: May cause respiratory irritation.
- Ingestion: May cause gastrointestinal irritation.
Section 3: Composition/Information on Ingredients
Chemical Identity: Gallium (Ga)
Common Name: Gallium
CAS Number: 7440-55-3
Section 4: First Aid Measures
- Skin Contact: Remove contaminated clothing immediately. Wash the affected area with plenty of soap and water for at least 15 minutes. Seek medical attention if irritation or burns develop.
- Eye Contact: Rinse eyes gently with water for at least 15 minutes, lifting the eyelids occasionally. Seek immediate medical attention.
- Inhalation: Move the exposed person to fresh air. If breathing difficulties occur, seek medical attention.
- Ingestion: Rinse mouth and drink plenty of water. Do not induce vomiting. Seek immediate medical attention.
Section 5: Firefighting Measures
- Suitable Extinguishing Media: Use water spray, carbon dioxide, dry chemical, or foam to extinguish fires involving gallium.
- Specific Hazards Arising from the Chemical: Gallium metal does not burn but can emit toxic fumes when heated or in contact with acids.
- Protective Equipment and Precautions for Firefighters: Use self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and protective clothing to prevent contact with skin and eyes.
Section 6: Accidental Release Measures
- Personal Precautions: Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as outlined in Section 8. Avoid direct contact and inhalation of released fumes or dust.
- Environmental Precautions: Prevent gallium from entering waterways or soil. Notify relevant authorities in case of significant release or spill.
- Cleanup Methods: Collect spilled gallium using non-reactive materials. Dispose of according to local regulations. Clean contaminated areas with appropriate cleaning agents.
Section 7: Handling and Storage
- Handling: Wear suitable protective gloves, safety goggles, and clothing to prevent direct skin contact. Avoid inhalation of dust or fumes. Use dedicated tools for handling gallium.
- Storage: Store gallium in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from sources of heat, moisture, and incompatible materials. Keep containers tightly sealed and labeled.
Section 8: Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
- Engineering Controls: Use local exhaust ventilation or other measures to maintain airborne concentrations below recommended exposure limits.
- Personal Protective Equipment:
- Respiratory Protection: Use appropriate respiratory protection if exposure limits are exceeded or in poorly ventilated areas.
- Eye Protection: Wear safety goggles or a face shield to protect against potential eye contact.
- Hand Protection: Use chemical-resistant gloves, such as nitrile or neoprene, to prevent skin contact.
- Skin and Body Protection: Wear suitable protective clothing to cover exposed skin.
Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties
- Appearance: Silver-white metal
- Odor: Odorless
- Melting Point: 29.76°C (85.57°F)
- Boiling Point: 2403°C (4357°F)
- Density: 5.91 g/cm