Ytterbium vs. Yttrium

What's the Difference?

Ytterbium and Yttrium are two chemical elements that share some similarities but also have distinct differences. Both elements belong to the lanthanide series of the periodic table and are named after the village of Ytterby in Sweden. Ytterbium is a soft, silvery metal that is highly malleable and ductile, while Yttrium is a hard, silvery-white metal that is relatively stable in air. Ytterbium has a higher atomic number and atomic mass than Yttrium, indicating that it has more protons, neutrons, and electrons. Additionally, Ytterbium is more reactive and has a lower melting point compared to Yttrium. Despite these disparities, both elements have various applications in technology, including lasers, superconductors, and phosphors.


Atomic Number7039
Atomic Mass173.04588.906
Electron Configuration[Xe] 4f^14 6s^2[Kr] 4d^1 5s^2
GroupLanthanideTransition Metal
Melting Point824°C1522°C
Boiling Point1469°C3345°C
Density6.57 g/cm³4.47 g/cm³
UsesMedical imaging, lasers, alloysSuperconductors, lasers, alloys

Further Detail


Ytterbium and yttrium are two chemical elements that share a similar name but have distinct properties and applications. While both elements belong to the lanthanide series, they differ in terms of their atomic number, atomic weight, electron configuration, and physical and chemical characteristics. In this article, we will explore the attributes of ytterbium and yttrium, highlighting their unique features and applications.

Atomic Structure

Ytterbium, with the symbol Yb and atomic number 70, is a soft, malleable, and silvery-white metal. It has an atomic weight of 173.04 atomic mass units. Yttrium, on the other hand, has the symbol Y and atomic number 39. It is a silvery-metallic transition metal with an atomic weight of 88.91 atomic mass units. Ytterbium has a filled 4f electron shell, while yttrium has a partially filled 4d electron shell.

Physical Properties

Ytterbium has a melting point of 824 degrees Celsius and a boiling point of 1196 degrees Celsius. It is relatively soft and ductile, making it easy to shape and manipulate. Yttrium, on the other hand, has a higher melting point of 1526 degrees Celsius and a boiling point of 3336 degrees Celsius. It is harder and more resistant to deformation compared to ytterbium.

In terms of density, ytterbium is denser than yttrium. Ytterbium has a density of 6.57 grams per cubic centimeter, while yttrium has a density of 4.47 grams per cubic centimeter. This difference in density contributes to variations in their physical properties and applications.

Chemical Properties

Ytterbium is a highly reactive element, especially when exposed to air and moisture. It readily forms a protective oxide layer on its surface, which helps prevent further oxidation. Ytterbium reacts with water to produce ytterbium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. It also reacts with acids, such as hydrochloric acid, to form ytterbium chloride and hydrogen gas.

Yttrium, on the other hand, is relatively stable in air and does not react as readily as ytterbium. It forms a protective oxide layer on its surface, similar to ytterbium. Yttrium reacts with water to produce yttrium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. It also reacts with acids, such as nitric acid, to form yttrium nitrate and hydrogen gas.


Ytterbium has various applications in different fields. It is commonly used as a dopant in materials for solid-state lasers, which are used in industrial cutting, welding, and medical applications. Ytterbium-doped fiber amplifiers are also used in telecommunications to amplify optical signals. Additionally, ytterbium is used in the production of certain alloys, such as stainless steel, to improve mechanical properties.

Yttrium, on the other hand, has its own set of applications. It is widely used in the production of phosphors, which are essential components in fluorescent lamps, television screens, and other display devices. Yttrium oxide is also used as a catalyst in the production of petrochemicals. Yttrium-stabilized zirconia is utilized in the production of high-temperature ceramics and as a gemstone in jewelry.


In conclusion, ytterbium and yttrium are two distinct elements with different atomic structures, physical properties, and chemical behaviors. Ytterbium is a soft and reactive metal, while yttrium is a harder and more stable transition metal. Their applications vary across different industries, with ytterbium finding use in lasers, alloys, and fiber optics, and yttrium being utilized in phosphors, catalysts, and ceramics. Understanding the attributes of these elements allows us to appreciate their unique contributions to science, technology, and everyday life.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.