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Rubidium is an element with a single stable isotope (85Rb) and three radioactive isotopes (87Rb, 78Rb, and 79Rb). It is a soft silvery-white metal of the alkali metal group, which consists of the most electropositive elements. Like potassium, it is soft and reacts violently with water. It follows cesium in the group, and is even more reactive than that element. It is a liquid at 39.3 oC – about body temperature – and can be solidified by cooling.
It is a member of the family of radioactive halides, and as such, is poisonous. Exposure to rubidium can cause irritation of the eyes and skin. Symptoms of overexposure include failure to gain weight, ataxia, irritability, and skin ulceration. Exposure to the fumes of rubidium chloride can cause breathing difficulties and lung irritation. It is corrosive to glass and a weak oxidizer.
It is used in photoelectric cells and as a “getter” in electron tubes to scavenge traces of sealed-in gases. It is also a component in certain types of atomic clocks, but is less accurate than cesium-based models. Its high price and limited supply discourage the development of other commercial applications. It forms refractory carbides with iron, tungsten, vanadium, chromium, molybdenum and nickel. It is also present in the mineral moissanite.