The dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) recognizes two meanings of the term gallium, each with a different etymological origin. The concept may come from scientific Latin gallium and refer to a metal, or derive from Latin gallon and allude to a plant.

In the first case, gallium comes from gallus (What does it mean “rooster”), a translation of the surname Lecoq. The French Chemist Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran (18381912) was the one who discovered this chemical element whose symbol is Ga and his atomic number, 31.

Soft metal

In the periodic table of elements, gallium is part of the p-block metals.

Lecoq de Boisbaudran’s work

Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered gallium in 1875 via electroscopy, which consists of an analysis of the interaction established between matter and electromagnetic radiation. What he did Lecoq was to examine a blende or sphalerite of zinc, observing his spectrum.

This scientist was able to isolate gallium by means of electrolysis of the hydroxide present in a potassium hydroxide solution. Long ago, Dmitri Mendeleev had anticipated many of the properties of this metal when considering the place that the element should have in the periodic table.

If we pay attention to the periodic table of elements, we will find gallium as a member of the metals of the so-called block p. This set includes several metals that have similar chemical and physical properties, such as tin, the aluminum and the lead, among others that make up this family or chemical series.

The members of the group of metals in block p have a melting point low and soft. In the specific case of gallium, in liquid state it shows a grayish hue, while it turns silver when it solidifies.

Its properties and uses

Gallium is found in minerals of zinc and of aluminum, although its presence in the earth’s crust is scarce. Between your melting point and his Boiling point there is more of 2170 ºC, while it naturally appears in a solid form.

The uses of gallium are varied. A gallium isotope, for example, it can be injected into the blood for the subsequent development of studies that allow diagnosing tumors, infections and other health problems. Gallium is also used in dentistry and to make thermometers and semiconductors.

Medicinal plant

Gallium is a medicinal plant that is also used to curdle milk.

Gallium in botany

We said at the beginning of this article that RAE mentions two meanings of gallium. We have already analyzed its meaning as a chemical element; now we will focus on gallium as plant.

This is the name of an herb that belongs to the family group of the Rubiaceae. The gallium stalk can be about two feet long, with sheets that end in points, yellowish flowers and a fruit that develops like a drupe.

Plant uses

Gallium is attributed healing, diuretic, disinfectant and spasmolytic properties. Traditionally it was used topically and in infusions.

Gallium, on the other hand, serves to curdle the milk; in fact, it is sometimes named as curd milk. This makes it useful for the elaboration of different cheeses.