Bismuth is a chemical element with the symbol Bi and atomic number 83. It belongs to the group 15 (formerly Group V-A) of the periodic table, commonly referred to as the pnictogens. Bismuth is the heaviest stable element and is primarily found in its elemental form in nature, although it can also be found in various minerals.

In its pure form, bismuth is a brittle metal with a silvery-white color and a pinkish tinge. It has a high electrical resistance and a low thermal conductivity. Bismuth is non-toxic and is sometimes used in alloys for applications such as soldering, casting, and low-melting-point alloys.

One of the most interesting properties of bismuth is its tendency to form beautiful iridescent oxide layers on its surface when it reacts with air. This results in stunningly colorful crystal formations, making bismuth crystals a popular choice for collectors and for use in jewelry and decorative items.

Bismuth minerals are relatively rare, but they do exist. The most common bismuth mineral is bismuthinite (Bi2S3), which is often found associated with other metal sulfides such as lead, copper, and silver ores. Other minerals containing bismuth include bismite (Bi2O3) and native bismuth, which is bismuth found in its pure elemental form.

In summary, bismuth is a fascinating element known for its unique properties, including its colorful crystal formations and its use in various industrial applications. Its presence in mineral form adds to its intrigue and importance in the study of geology and mineralogy.

Name: From the German weisse masse, later wismuth, white mass.

Mineral Group: Arsenic group.

Cell Data: Space Group: R3m. a = 4.546 c = 11.860 Z = 6

Association: Chalcopyrite, arsenopyrite, pyrrhotite, pyrite, cobaltite, nickeline, breithauptite, skutterudite, safflorite, bismuthinite, silver, cubanite, molybdenite, sphalerite, galena, scheelite, wolframite, calcite, barite, quartz.

Chemical Properties

Chemical Classification Native
Chemical Composition Bi

Physical Properties

Color Reddish-white to creamy-white; tarnishes iridescent pinkish, yellowish or bluish
Streak Silver-white
Luster Metallic
Cleavage Perfect Perfect {0001}, Good {1011}, poor {1014}
Diaphaneity Opaque
Mohs Hardness 2–2.5 on Mohs scale
Crystal System Trigonal
Tenacity Sectile
Density 9.7 – 9.83 g/cm3 (Measured)    9.753 g/cm3 (Calculated)

Optical Properties

Bismuth exhibits several interesting optical properties, although it’s not typically considered a major player in optical applications compared to other materials like silicon or various compounds used in optics. Nonetheless, here are some optical properties of bismuth:

  1. Refraction: Bismuth has a refractive index of approximately 1.9 for visible light. This means that light passing through or interacting with bismuth will be refracted, or bent, as it enters or exits the material.
  2. Reflection: Like most metals, bismuth exhibits reflectivity. However, it’s not as reflective as some other metals like silver or aluminum. The reflectivity of bismuth can vary depending on factors such as surface finish and purity.
  3. Coloration: Bismuth is known for its iridescent oxide layer that forms on its surface when exposed to air. This oxide layer can produce a range of colors, including purples, blues, greens, and yellows. This property makes bismuth crystals popular for decorative and artistic purposes.
  4. Transparency: Bismuth is generally considered opaque to visible light, meaning that light cannot pass through it. However, in thin films or certain crystal structures, bismuth can exhibit some degree of transparency, particularly in the infrared part of the spectrum.
  5. Photoluminescence: Under certain conditions, bismuth compounds can exhibit photoluminescence, emitting light when excited by photons. This property is exploited in some applications such as luminescent materials for displays and sensors.
  6. Optical Birefringence: Some bismuth-containing compounds, particularly certain crystals, exhibit optical birefringence. This means that they have different refractive indices for light polarized in different directions, resulting in double refraction.

While bismuth’s optical properties are not as extensively studied or utilized as those of some other materials, they still contribute to its unique characteristics and make it suitable for specific applications, particularly in decorative items, art, and certain scientific studies.


Bismuth is primarily found in the Earth’s crust, typically occurring in mineral deposits alongside other metals such as lead, copper, zinc, and silver. It is considered a relatively rare element, with abundance in the Earth’s crust estimated to be around 0.2 parts per million. Some of the common minerals where bismuth is found include:

  1. Bismuthinite (Bi2S3): This is the most common mineral containing bismuth. It is a sulfide mineral and often occurs in hydrothermal veins associated with other sulfide minerals like lead, zinc, and silver ores.
  2. Bismite (Bi2O3): This is an oxide mineral of bismuth. It forms under oxidizing conditions and can occur in hydrothermal veins and pegmatites, as well as in association with other bismuth-bearing minerals.
  3. Native Bismuth: Occasionally, bismuth occurs in its native elemental form. These occurrences are relatively rare but can be found in certain geological environments where bismuth-rich fluids have cooled and solidified.
  4. Bismuth Ochre: This is a mixture of various bismuth oxides and hydroxides, often found as a weathering product of other bismuth-bearing minerals.

Bismuth is typically obtained as a by-product of the refining of lead, copper, tin, silver, and gold ores. It is also produced as a by-product of the smelting of certain metallic ores. Additionally, bismuth can be extracted from its ores through processes such as roasting, smelting, and electrolysis.

Commercially, bismuth is produced mainly in China, Peru, Mexico, and Canada, with smaller amounts coming from other countries. The majority of bismuth production is used in metallurgical applications, as well as in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and various other industrial processes.

Uses Area

Bismuth finds applications in various fields due to its unique properties and relatively low toxicity. Some key areas where bismuth is utilized include:

  1. Metallurgy and Alloys: Bismuth is often alloyed with other metals such as tin, lead, cadmium, and indium to create low-melting-point alloys. These alloys are used in applications such as soldering, plumbing fixtures, electrical fuses, and fire sprinkler systems.
  2. Pharmaceuticals: Bismuth compounds, such as bismuth subsalicylate, are used in medications to treat gastrointestinal disorders like indigestion, diarrhea, and peptic ulcers. Bismuth compounds act as antacids and antimicrobial agents.
  3. Cosmetics: Bismuth oxychloride, a compound derived from bismuth, is used in cosmetics such as foundations, blushes, and eye shadows to provide a pearlescent or shimmery effect.
  4. Nuclear Industry: Bismuth is used as a neutron-absorbing material in some nuclear reactors and nuclear safety equipment.
  5. Fire Detection Systems: Bismuth-containing materials are used in fire detection systems because of their low thermal conductivity. These materials are employed in heat-sensitive triggers that activate fire suppression systems.
  6. Catalysts: Bismuth compounds are utilized as catalysts in various chemical reactions, including in the production of pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals.
  7. Machining and Lubrication: Bismuth is used as a lubricant in certain machining processes due to its low friction properties. It can also serve as a lubricant in certain metal-forming operations.
  8. Pyrotechnics: Bismuth compounds are used in fireworks and pyrotechnic devices to create colorful effects due to their ability to produce vivid and iridescent flames when ignited.
  9. Radiation Shielding: Bismuth is employed in certain types of radiation shielding due to its high density and ability to absorb radiation.
  10. Crystal Growth: Bismuth is used in the production of single crystals for various scientific and industrial applications, including semiconductors and optical devices.

These are just a few examples of the diverse applications of bismuth across different industries. Its unique combination of properties makes it valuable in a wide range of fields, from healthcare to metallurgy to electronics.


The distribution of bismuth in nature is relatively widespread, but it tends to occur in relatively low concentrations compared to more abundant elements. Here’s a breakdown of its distribution:

  1. Earth’s Crust: Bismuth is present in the Earth’s crust at an average concentration of around 0.2 parts per million (ppm). This makes it one of the less abundant elements in the Earth’s crust.
  2. Mineral Deposits: Bismuth is typically found in association with other metal ores, particularly those of lead, copper, zinc, and silver. It occurs in various mineral forms, including bismuthinite (Bi2S3), bismite (Bi2O3), and native bismuth. These minerals are often found in hydrothermal veins, pegmatites, and other geological formations where ore deposits are formed.
  3. Global Production: The largest producers of bismuth are China, Peru, Mexico, and Canada, although smaller quantities are produced in several other countries as well. China, in particular, dominates global production, accounting for a significant portion of the world’s bismuth supply.
  4. By-Product of Other Metal Extraction: Bismuth is often obtained as a by-product of the refining of lead, copper, tin, silver, and gold ores. It is extracted from these ores through various processes such as smelting, roasting, and electrolysis.
  5. Industrial Use and Distribution: Once extracted, bismuth is utilized in various industries such as metallurgy, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, electronics, and pyrotechnics. Its distribution in these industries depends on factors such as demand, availability, and economic considerations.
  6. Global Trade: Bismuth and its compounds are traded globally, with countries importing and exporting bismuth-based products for various applications. China, as the largest producer, also plays a significant role in the global trade of bismuth.

Overall, while bismuth is relatively rare compared to some other elements, it is still widely distributed and plays important roles in various industrial and commercial sectors around the world.