The potentialities of beryllium are claiming the attention of the world’s engineers, chemists and metallurgists. It is at present obtained only in small quantities and is therefore expensive. It is present, however, in large deposits in many places. It is not the utility of beryllium by itself which is interesting industrial scientists, but the extraordinary way in which, when intermingled with more common metals, it enhances certain valuable properties of alloys.
The effect of a very small quantity imparts increased resistance to abrasion and higher tensile strength. For example, gold is converted, by a small quantity of beryllium, into a hard steel like substance. Two per cent of this metal makes copper harder than steel. It is one of the lightest of metals, with a specific gravity of 1.85, being a third lighter than aluminium, and it is one of the hardest, scratching glass easily.
The importance of this metal to toolmakers can be visualised when it is realised that a percentage of beryllium added to nickel will produce an alloy with a tensile strength of 260,000 lb. per sq. in., compared with 60,000 lb. for structural steel and 90,000 for stainless steel.
German scientists were the first to solve the difficult metallurgist’s problem involved in alloying this material with steel, copper and other metals, and for many years the exploitation of the metal was dominated by a German organisation. Now, however, metallurgists and engineers in Britain and other countries have mastered the technique and further research work is in progress.