Indium is a chemical element with symbol In and atomic number 49.
It is a post-transition metal that makes up 0.21 parts per
million of the Earth's crust. Very soft and malleable, indium has a
melting point higher than sodium and gallium, but lower than lithium
and tin. Chemically, indium is similar to gallium and thallium, and it
is largely intermediate between the two in terms of its properties.
Indium was discovered in 1863 by
Ferdinand Reich and Hieronymous
Theodor Richter by spectroscopic methods. They named it for the indigo
blue line in its spectrum.
Indium was isolated the next year.
Indium is a minor component in zinc sulfide ores and is produced as a
byproduct of zinc refinement. It is most notably used in the
semiconductor industry, in low-melting-point metal alloys such as
solders, in soft-metal high-vacuum seals, and in the production of
transparent conductive coatings of indium tin oxide (ITO) on glass.
Indium has no biological role, though its compounds are somewhat toxic
when injected into the bloodstream. Most occupational exposure is
through ingestion, from which indium compounds are not absorbed well,
and inhalation, from which they are moderately absorbed.
2.3 Other oxidation states
2.4 Organoindium compounds
5 Production and availability
7 Biological role and precautions
8 See also
11 External links
Indium wetting the glass surface of a test tube
Indium is a silvery-white, highly ductile post-transition metal with a
bright luster. It is so soft (
Mohs hardness 1.2) that like sodium,
it can be cut with a knife. It also leaves a visible line on paper.
It is a member of group 13 on the periodic table and its properties
are mostly intermediate between its vertical neighbours gallium and
thallium. Like tin, a high-pitched cry is heard when indium is bent
– a crackling sound due to crystal twinning. Like gallium, indium
is able to wet glass. Like both, indium has a low melting point,
156.60 °C (313.88 °F); higher than its lighter homologue,
gallium, but lower than its heavier homologue, thallium, and lower
than tin. The boiling point is 2072 °C (3762 °F),
higher than that of thallium, but lower than gallium, conversely to
the general trend of melting points, but similarly to the trends down
the other post-transition metal groups because of the weakness of the
metallic bonding with few electrons delocalized.
The density of indium, 7.31 g/cm3, is also greater than gallium,
but lower than thallium. Below the critical temperature, 3.41 K,
indium becomes a superconductor. At standard temperature and pressure,
indium crystallizes in the face-centered tetragonal crystal system in
the space group I4/mmm (lattice
parameters: a = 325 pm,
c = 495 pm): this is a slightly distorted
face-centered cubic structure, where each indium atom has four
neighbours at 324 pm distance and eight neighbours slightly
further (336 pm).
Indium displays a ductile viscoplastic
response, found to be size-independent in tension and compression.
However it does have a size effect in bending and indentation,
associated to a length-scale of order 50–100 µm,
significantly large when compared with other metals.
Indium has 49 electrons, with an electronic configuration of
[Kr]4d105s25p1. In compounds, indium most commonly donates the three
outermost electrons to become indium(III), In3+. In some cases, the
pair of 5s-electrons are not donated, resulting in indium(I), In+. The
stabilization of the monovalent state is attributed to the inert pair
effect, in which relativistic effects stabilize the 5s-orbital,
observed in heavier elements.
Thallium (indium's heavier homolog)
shows an even stronger effect, causing oxidation to thallium(I) to be
more probable than to thallium(III), whereas gallium (indium's
lighter homolog) commonly shows only the +3 oxidation state. Thus,
although thallium(III) is a moderately strong oxidizing agent,
indium(III) is not, and many indium(I) compounds are powerful reducing
agents. While the energy required to include the s-electrons in
chemical bonding is lowest for indium among the group 13 metals, bond
energies decrease down the group so that by indium, the energy
released in forming two additional bonds and attaining the +3 state is
not always enough to outweigh the energy needed to involve the
5s-electrons. Indium(I) oxide and hydroxide are more basic and
indium(III) oxide and hydroxide are more acidic.
A number of standard electrode potentials, depending on the reaction
under study, are reported for indium, reflecting the decreased
stability of the +3 oxidation state:
In2+ + e−
In3+ + e−
In3+ + 2 e−
In3+ + 3 e−
In+ + e−
Indium metal does not react with water, but it is oxidized by stronger
oxidizing agents such as halogens to give indium(III) compounds. It
does not form a boride, silicide, or carbide, and the hydride InH3 has
at best a transitory existence in ethereal solutions at low
temperatures, being unstable enough to spontaneously polymerize
Indium is rather basic in aqueous solution,
showing only slight amphoteric characteristics, and unlike its lighter
homologs aluminium and gallium, it is insoluble in aqueous alkaline
Main article: Isotopes of indium
Indium has 39 known isotopes, ranging in mass number from 97 to 135.
Only two isotopes occur naturally as primordial nuclides: indium-113,
the only stable isotope, and indium-115, which has a half-life of
4.41×1014 years, four orders of magnitude greater than the age of the
universe and nearly 30,000 times greater than that of natural
thorium. The half-life of 115In is very long because the beta
decay to 115Sn is spin-forbidden. Indium-115 makes up 95.7% of all
Indium is one of three known elements (the others being
tellurium and rhenium) of which the stable isotope is less abundant in
nature than the long-lived primordial radioisotopes.
The stablest artificial isotope is indium-111, with a half-life of
approximately 2.8 days. All other isotopes have half-lives
shorter than 5 hours.
Indium also has 47 meta states, among which
indium-114m1 (half-life about 49.51 days) is the most stable,
more stable than the ground state of any indium isotope other than the
primordial. All decay by isomeric transition. The indium isotopes
lighter than 115In predominantly decay through electron capture or
positron emission to form cadmium isotopes, while the other indium
isotopes from 115In and greater predominantly decay through beta-minus
decay to form tin isotopes.
See also: Category:
InCl3 (structure pictured) is a common compound of indium.
Indium(III) oxide, In2O3, forms when indium metal is burned in air or
when the hydroxide or nitrate is heated. In2O3 adopts a structure
like alumina and is amphoteric, that is able to react with both acids
Indium reacts with water to reproduce soluble indium(III)
hydroxide, which is also amphoteric; with alkalis to produce
indates(III); and with acids to produce indium(III) salts:
In(OH)3 + 3 HCl → InCl3 + 3 H2O
The analogous sesquichalcogenides with sulfur, selenium, and tellurium
are also known.
Indium forms the expected trihalides.
Chlorination, bromination, and iodination of In produce colorless
InCl3, InBr3, and yellow InI3. The compounds are Lewis acids, somewhat
akin to the better known aluminium trihalides. Again like the related
aluminium compound, InF3 is polymeric.
Direct reaction of indium with the pnictogens produces the gray or
semimetallic III–V semiconductors. Many of them slowly decompose in
moist air, necessitating careful storage of semiconductor compounds to
prevent contact with the atmosphere.
Indium nitride is readily
attacked by acids and alkalis.
Indium(I) compounds are not common. The chloride, bromide, and iodide
are deeply colored, unlike the parent trihalides from which they are
prepared. The fluoride is known only as an unstable gaseous
compound. Indium(I) oxide black powder is produced when
indium(III) oxide decomposes upon heating to 700 °C.
Other oxidation states
Less frequently, indium forms compounds in oxidation state +2 and even
fractional oxidation states. Usually such materials feature In–In
bonding, most notably in the halides In2X4 and [In2X6]2−, and
various subchalcogenides such as In4Se3. Several other compounds
are known to combine indium(I) and indium(III), such as
InI6(InIIICl6)Cl3, InI5(InIIIBr4)2(InIIIBr6), InIInIIIBr4.
Organoindium compounds feature In–C bonds. Most are In(III)
derivatives, but cyclopentadienylindium(I) is an exception. It was the
first known organoindium(I) compound, and is polymeric, consisting
of zigzag chains of alternating indium atoms and cyclopentadienyl
complexes. Perhaps the best-known organoindium compound is
trimethylindium, In(CH3)3, used to prepare certain semiconducting
In 1863, the German chemists
Ferdinand Reich and Hieronymous Theodor
Richter were testing ores from the mines around Freiberg, Saxony. They
dissolved the minerals pyrite, arsenopyrite, galena and sphalerite in
hydrochloric acid and distilled raw zinc chloride. Reich, who was
color-blind, employed Richter as an assistant for detecting the
colored spectral lines. Knowing that ores from that region sometimes
contain thallium, they searched for the green thallium emission
spectrum lines. Instead, they found a bright blue line. Because that
blue line did not match any known element, they hypothesized a new
element was present in the minerals. They named the element indium,
from the indigo color seen in its spectrum, after the Latin indicum,
meaning 'of India'.
Richter went on to isolate the metal in 1864. An ingot of
0.5 kg (1.1 lb) was presented at the World Fair 1867.
Reich and Richter later fell out when the latter claimed to be the
The s-process acting in the range from silver to antimony
Indium is created by the long-lasting (up to thousands of years)
s-process (slow neutron capture) in low-to-medium-mass stars (which
range in mass between 0.6 and 10 solar masses). When a silver-109 atom
(the isotope that comprises approximately half of all silver in
existence) catches a neutron, it undergoes a beta decay to become
cadmium-110. Capturing further neutrons, it becomes cadmium-115, which
decays to indium-115 by another beta decay. This explains why the
radioactive isotope is more abundant than the stable one. The
stable indium isotope, indium-113, is one of the p-nuclei, the origin
of which is not fully understood; although indium-113 is known to be
made directly in the s- and r-processes (rapid neutron capture), and
also as the daughter of very long-lived cadmium-113, which has a
half-life of about eight quadrillion years, this cannot account for
Indium is the 68th most abundant element in Earth's crust at
approximately 50 ppb. This is similar to the crustal abundance of
silver, bismuth and mercury. It very rarely forms its own minerals, or
occurs in elemental form. Fewer than 10 indium minerals such as
roquesite (CuInS2) are known, and none occur at sufficient
concentrations for economic extraction. Instead, indium is usually
a trace constituent of more common ore minerals, such as sphalerite
and chalcopyrite . From these, it can be extracted as a
by-product during smelting. While the enrichment of indium in
these deposits is high relative to its crustal abundance, it is
insufficient, at current prices, to support extraction of indium as
the main product.
Different estimates exist of the amounts of indium contained within
the ores of other metals. However, these amounts are not
extractable without mining of the host materials (see Production and
availability). Thus, the availability of indium is fundamentally
determined by the rate at which these ores are extracted, and not
their absolute amount. This is an aspect that is often forgotten in
the current debate, e.g. by the Graedel group at Yale in their
criticality assessments, explaining the paradoxically low
depletion times some studies cite.
Production and availability
World production trend
Indium is produced exclusively as a by-product during the processing
of the ores of other metals. Its main source material are sulfidic
zinc ores, where it is mostly hosted by sphalerite. Minor amounts
are probably also extracted from sulfidic copper ores. During the
roast-leach-electrowinning process of zinc smelting, indium
accumulates in the iron-rich residues. From these, it can be extracted
in different ways. It may also be recovered directly from the process
solutions. Further purification is done by electrolysis. The exact
process varies with the mode of operation of the smelter.
Its by-product status means that indium production is constrained by
the amount of sulfidic zinc (and copper) ores extracted each year.
Therefore, its availability needs to be discussed in terms of supply
potential. The supply potential of a by-product is defined as that
amount which is economically extractable from its host materials per
year under current market conditions (i.e. technology and price).
Reserves and resources are not relevant for by-products, since they
cannot be extracted independently from the main-products. Recent
estimates put the supply potential of indium at a minimum of 1,300
t/yr from sulfidic zinc ores and 20 t/yr from sulfidic copper
ores. These figures are significantly greater than current
production (655 t in 2016). Thus, major future increases in the
by-product production of indium will be possible without significant
increases in production costs or price. The average indium price in
2016 was $US240/kg, down from $US705/kg in 2014.
China is a leading producer of indium (290 tonnes in 2016), followed
by South Korea (195 t), Japan (70 t) and Canada (65 t). The Teck
Resources refinery in Trail, British Columbia, is a large
single-source indium producer, with an output of 32.5 tonnes in
2005, 41.8 tonnes in 2004 and 36.1 tonnes in 2003.
The primary consumption of indium worldwide is LCD production. Demand
rose rapidly from the late 1990s to 2010 with the popularity of LCD
computer monitors and television sets, which now account for 50% of
indium consumption. Increased manufacturing efficiency and
recycling (especially in Japan) maintain a balance between demand and
supply. According to the UNEP, indium's end-of-life recycling rate is
less than 1%.
A magnified image of an LCD screen showing RGB pixels. Individual
transistors are seen as white dots in the bottom part.
In 1924, indium was found to have a valued property of stabilizing
non-ferrous metals, and that became the first significant use for the
element. The first large-scale application for indium was coating
bearings in high-performance aircraft engines during World War II, to
protect against damage and corrosion; this is no longer a major use of
the element. New uses were found in fusible alloys, solders, and
electronics. In the 1950s, tiny beads of indium were used for the
emitters and collectors of PNP alloy-junction transistors. In the
middle and late 1980s, the development of indium phosphide
semiconductors and indium tin oxide thin films for liquid-crystal
displays (LCD) aroused much interest. By 1992, the thin-film
application had become the largest end use.
Indium(III) oxide and indium tin oxide (ITO) are used as a transparent
conductive coating on glass substrates in electroluminescent
Indium tin oxide
Indium tin oxide is used as a light filter in low-pressure
sodium-vapor lamps. The infrared radiation is reflected back into the
lamp, which increases the temperature within the tube and improves the
performance of the lamp.
Indium has many semiconductor-related applications. Some indium
compounds, such as indium antimonide and indium phosphide, are
semiconductors with useful properties: one precursor is usually
trimethylindium (TMI), which is also used as the semiconductor dopant
in II–VI compound semiconductors. InAs and InSb are used for
low-temperature transistors and InP for high-temperature
transistors. The compound semiconductors
InGaP are used
in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and laser diodes.
Indium is used
in photovoltaics as the semiconductor copper indium gallium selenide
(CIGS), also called CIGS solar cells, a type of second-generation
thin-film solar cell.
Indium is used in PNP bipolar junction
transistors with germanium: when soldered at low temperature, indium
does not stress the germanium.
Ductile indium wire
Indium wire is used as a vacuum seal and a thermal conductor in
cryogenics and ultra-high-vacuum applications, in such manufacturing
applications as gaskets that deform to fill gaps.
Indium is an
ingredient in the gallium–indium–tin alloy galinstan, which is
liquid at room temperature and replaces mercury in some
thermometers. Other alloys of indium with bismuth, cadmium, lead,
and tin, which have higher but still low melting points (between 50
and 100 °C), are used in fire sprinkler systems and heat
Indium is one of many substitutes for mercury in alkaline batteries to
prevent the zinc from corroding and releasing hydrogen gas. Indium
is added to some dental amalgam alloys to decrease the surface tension
of the mercury and allow for less mercury and easier amalgamation.
Indium's high neutron-capture cross-section for thermal neutrons makes
it suitable for use in control rods for nuclear reactors, typically in
an alloy of 80% silver, 15% indium, and 5% cadmium. In nuclear
engineering, the (n,n') reactions of 113In and 115In are used to
determine magnitudes of neutron fluxes.
Biological role and precautions
A video on
Indium lung, an illness caused by indium exposure
Indium has no metabolic role in any organism. In a similar way to
aluminium salts, indium(III) ions can be toxic to the kidney when
given by injection.
Indium tin oxide
Indium tin oxide and indium phosphide harm the
pulmonary and immune systems, predominantly through ionic indium,
though hydrated indium oxide is more than forty times as toxic when
injected, measured by the quantity of indium introduced.
Radioactive indium-111 (in very small amounts on a chemical basis) is
used in nuclear medicine tests, as a radiotracer to follow the
movement of labeled proteins and white blood cells in the
Indium compounds are mostly not absorbed upon ingestion
and are only moderately absorbed on inhalation; they tend to be stored
temporarily in the muscles, skin, and bones before being excreted, and
the biological half-life of indium is about two weeks in humans.
People can be exposed to indium in the workplace by inhalation,
ingestion, skin contact, and eye contact. The National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health has set a recommended exposure limit
(REL) of 0.1 mg/m3 over an 8-hour workday.
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