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Rubidium, named after the Latin word for deep red, was first isolated in 1861 by German chemists Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff. Its unique combination of electronegativity and spectral properties makes it a convenient atom to manipulate for many applications, especially in laser systems for atomic spectroscopy and other optical methods. Its ions have the same charge as potassium ions, and are actively taken up by animal cells in similar ways. It is not a nutrient but is an essential trace element for humans and other animals.
Chemically, the element is a hard silvery metal with the molecular formula Rb2Cr2O7. Its crystal structure is triclinic, with oxygen atoms in the apices of tetrahedra and chromium atoms at their centers. It has a low melting point and boiling point.
The most common commercial forms of chromate are sodium chromate (NaCr(Cr(NO3))2) and potassium dichromate (K2Cr(NO3)2)). They are used for manufacturing chromic acid for leather tanning and chromium pigments for corrosion control. Chromate and dichromate are also standard reagents for oxidizing organic compounds. They react rapidly with phenols to form the corresponding carboxylate ions. They also etch glass surfaces. They are also useful reagents for determining carbon dioxide demand (COD) values by measuring the decrease in absorbance at 420 nm, which correlates with the concentration of the chromate ion.
Because of their ability to oxidize organic molecules, chromates and dichromates are used in a variety of industrial processes. They are toxic when inhaled in occupational settings, primarily through their effects on the lungs. Chromium(VI) complexes are potent carcinogens and mutagens. They can cause these effects through a variety of mechanisms, including oxidation of biological molecules by the chromium ions, reactions of reactive oxygen species generated as by-products of these oxidations, and binding of the ultimately generated Cr3 + to biomolecules.