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The discovery of osmium is intertwined with that of platinum and the other metals of the platinum group.Platinum reached Europe as platina (“small silver”), first encountered in the late 17th century in silver mines around the Chocó Department, in Colombia.During electrorefining of copper and nickel, noble metals such as silver, gold and the platinum group metals, together with non-metallic elements such as selenium and tellurium settle to the bottom of the cell as anode mud, which forms the starting material for their extraction.In order to separate the metals, they must first be brought into solution.Shortly thereafter, in 1908, cheaper catalysts based on iron and iron oxides were introduced by the same group for the first pilot plants, removing the need for the expensive and rare osmium.Although osmium is one of the even-numbered elements, which puts it in the upper half of elements commonly found in space, osmium is the least abundant stable element in Earth’s crust with an average mass fraction of 50 parts per trillion in the continental crust.Uranium and osmium were early successful catalysts in the Haber process, the nitrogen fixation reaction of nitrogen and hydrogen to produce ammonia, giving enough yield to make the process economically successful.At the time, a group at BASF led by Carl Bosch bought most of the world’s supply of osmium to use as a catalyst.

Analyses of arsenopyrite from bedding-concordant veins from The Ovens locality, southwest Meguma terrane, yield a precise Re-Os isochron age of 409 ± 5 Ma.This toxic compound is formed when powdered osmium is exposed to air.It is a very volatile, water-soluble, pale yellow, crystalline solid with a strong smell.The second large alluvial deposit was found in the Ural Mountains, Russia, which is still mined.Osmium is obtained commercially as a by-product from nickel and copper mining and processing.

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Osmium (from Greek ὀσμή osme, “smell”) is a chemical element with symbol Os and atomic number 76.

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