Titanium tales


In this month’s ‘in your element’ article (subscription required), Mike Tarselli from Biomedisyn Corporation recounts just how pervasive titanium is in our lives. And by ‘our lives’ I refer to us human beings as well as us chemists.

[Note: Find out more about Mike here by reading his replies to our Reactions questions.]


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© DIDIER ZYLBERYNG / ALAMY



Element 22 is ubiquitous on Earth – although not as a pure metal, a form that has only become accessible in the 20th century. Titanium and its compounds serve a myriad of purposes. To name but a few, titanium is a component of jewellery, glasses frames, and the pins and screws used to staple together broken bones, while pigment TiO2 also endows paints, toothpaste and pharmaceutical coatings with a bright, glimmering white.  Not to mention partly making up the striking Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (pictured)!

Chemists have long relied on titanium, in various compounds and oxidation states, to promote many, many reactions – the article elegantly relates diverse ways in which titanium, in different oxidation states and coordination environments, engages with a variety of molecules, but I will avoid spoiling it here. Let me point out though that titanium compounds may not be as environmentally-benign as we might have thought. Few efforts have been made so far to recover catalysts from finished products (for example polyethylene bottles), or by-product salts, but this is an issue that seems worthy of attention.

In any case, this year marks the 222nd anniversary of the discovery of element 22 — and what a rich 222 years that have been, too! As per Mike’s toast, “raise a titanium silicate-coated champagne glass, and enjoy some titania-frosted cake. Delicious!”