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What is Lithium

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Although it is a metal, it is soft enough to cut with a knife. It is so light it can float on water. Lithium fires are difficult to put out. You can’t use water as water will react with the lithium and could make the fire worse. A powder fire extinguisher is needed. Along with hydrogen and helium, lithium was one of the three elements produced in large quantities by the Big Bang. When burning, lithium gives off a bright red flame. Because it is the lightest metal, it can be alloyed with other metals such as aluminum and copper to make strong lightweight metals. Lithium hydroxide can be used to purify air and remove carbon dioxide in spacecraft and submarines.

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Lithium makes up a mere 0.0007 percent of the Earth’s crust, according to the Jefferson Lab, and it’s only found locked up in minerals and salts. Those salts have the power to change the brain: lithium salts were the first drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat mania and depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.Today, lithium carbonate is the compound most often sold as a pharmaceutical. Oddly, no one knows exactly how lithium works to stabilize mood. Studies show multiple effects on the nervous system. In 2008, for example, researchers reported in the journal Cell that lithium interrupts the activity of a receptor for the neurotransmitter dopamine. It also appears to plump up brain volume, according to a 2011 study in the journal Biological Psychiatry (though this research is hotly contested).

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Lithium-ion batteries are the key to lightweight, rechargeable power for laptops, phones and other digital devices. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Argentina and Chile increased their lithium production 15 percent each in 2014 alone to meet the growing demand. Worldwide, production jumped 6 percent that year. The United States has one lithium mine, in Nevada, according to the USGS. Chile and Australia produce the most lithium in the world.Naturally occurring lithium in drinking water correlates with lower levels of suicide, according to a 2009 study that highlights lithium’s role in the brain. But psychiatrists are careful about prescribing lithium in high doses, particularly because it can pass through the placenta and have unknown effects on the developing fetus. Lithium was one of the three elements produced in large quantities in the Big Bang, according to physicists. The others were hydrogen and helium.

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