«Lithium (from Greek: λίθος, translit. lithos, lit. 'stone') is a chemical element with symbol Li and atomic number 3. It is a soft, silvery-white alkali metal. Under standard conditions, it is the lightest metal and the lightest solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly reactive and flammable, and is stored in mineral oil. When cut, it exhibits a metallic luster, but moist air corrodes it quickly to a dull silvery gray, then black tarnish. It never occurs freely in nature, but only in (usually ionic) compounds, such as pegmatitic minerals which were once the main source of lithium. Due to its solubility as an ion, it is present in ocean water and is commonly obtained from brines. Lithium metal is isolated electrolytically from a mixture of lithium chloride and potassium chloride.
The nucleus of the lithium atom verges on instability, since the two stable lithium isotopes found in nature have among the lowest binding energies per nucleon of all stable nuclides. Because of its relative nuclear instability, lithium is less common in the solar system than 25 of the first 32 chemical elements even though its nuclei are very light: it is an exception to the trend that heavier nuclei are less common. For related reasons, lithium has important uses in nuclear physics. The transmutation of lithium atoms to helium in 1932 was the first fully man-made nuclear reaction, and lithium deuteride serves as a fusion fuel in staged thermonuclear weapons.
Lithium and its compounds have several industrial applications, including heat-resistant glass and ceramics, lithium grease lubricants, flux additives for iron, steel and aluminium production, lithium batteries, and lithium-ion batteries. These uses consume more than three quarters of lithium production.
Lithium is present in biological systems in trace amounts; its functions are uncertain. Lithium salt have proven to be useful as a mood-stabilizing drug in the treatment of bipolar disorder in humans.
Like the other alkali metals, lithium has a single valence electron that is easily given up to form a cation. Because of this, lithium is a good conductor of heat and electricity as well as a highly reactive element, though it is the least reactive of the alkali metals. Lithium's low reactivity is due to the proximity of its valence electron to its nucleus (the remaining two electrons are in the 1s orbital, much lower in energy, and do not participate in chemical bonds).
Lithium metal is soft enough to be cut with a knife. When cut, it possesses a silvery-white color that quickly changes to gray as it oxidizes to lithium oxide. While it has one of the lowest melting points among all metals (180 °C), it has the highest melting and boiling points of the alkali metals.
Lithium has a very low density (0.534 g/cm3), comparable with pine wood. It is the least dense of all elements that are solids at room temperature; the next lightest solid element (potassium, at 0.862 g/cm3) is more than 60% denser. Furthermore, apart from helium and hydrogen, it is less dense than any liquid element, being only two thirds as dense as liquid nitrogen (0.808 g/cm3). Lithium can float on the lightest hydrocarbon oils and is one of only three metals that can float on water, the other two being sodium and potassium.
Lithium's coefficient of thermal expansion is twice that of aluminium and almost four times that of iron. Lithium is superconductive below 400 μK at standard pressure and at higher temperatures (more than 9 K) at very high pressures (>20 GPa). At temperatures below 70 K, lithium, like sodium, undergoes diffusionless phase change transformations. At 4.2 K it has a rhombohedral crystal system (with a nine-layer repeat spacing); at higher temperatures it transforms to face-centered cubic and then body-centered cubic. At liquid-helium temperatures (4 K) the rhombohedral structure is prevalent. Multiple allotropic forms have been identified for lithium at high pressures.
Lithium has a mass specific heat capacity of 3.58 kilojoules per kilogram-kelvin, the highest of all solids. Because of this, lithium metal is often used in coolants for heat transfer applications.
Lithium reacts with water easily, but with noticeably less vigor than other alkali metals. The reaction forms hydrogen gas and lithium hydroxide in aqueous solution. Because of its reactivity with water, lithium is usually stored in a hydrocarbon sealant, often petroleum jelly. Though the heavier alkali metals can be stored in more dense substances, such as mineral oil, lithium is not dense enough to be fully submerged in these liquids. In moist air, lithium rapidly tarnishes to form a black coating of lithium hydroxide (LiOH and LiOH·H2O), lithium nitride (Li3N) and lithium carbonate (Li2CO3, the result of a secondary reaction between LiOH and CO2).
When placed over a flame, lithium compounds give off a striking crimson color, but when it burns strongly the flame becomes a brilliant silver. Lithium will ignite and burn in oxygen when exposed to water or water vapors. Lithium is flammable, and it is potentially explosive when exposed to air and especially to water, though less so than the other alkali metals. The lithium-water reaction at normal temperatures is brisk but nonviolent because the hydrogen produced does not ignite on its own. As with all alkali metals, lithium fires are difficult to extinguish, requiring dry powder fire extinguishers (Class D type). Lithium is one of the few metals that react with nitrogen under normal conditions.» (wikipedia)