As far as cosmologists know, there were only three elements present when the universe was first formed some 13.8 billion years ago: hydrogen, helium and lithium. As one of the three original elements, lithium can still be found in plenty throughout our atmosphere. Meteorites, the sun and stars burn brightly with the flame of this highly reactive element. Here on earth, lithium remains a major mineral component of granite rock, and also lingers in significant amounts in sea water, mineral springs and soils. Every organ and tissue in the human body also contains the mineral lithium.

Lithium was given its official name by a chemist named Johan August Arfvedson in 1817. He found the element when researching petalite - a rich mineral deposit found in soils- on a remote Swedish island. The metal was aptly named lithium, a term derived from the Greek word lithos meaning literally “from stone.”  Subsequent research has given scientists a greater appreciation of this alkali earth metal, which is now known to be relatively common in the Earth’s upper crust. As the 27th most abundant element it can be found in rock sediments, salt flats and mineral springs at varying concentrations throughout the globe. The largest deposits of lithium are salars or vast saline basins in the deserts of South America. But the mineral is also highly concentrated in clay beds and hard rock underground mines dotting Australia, China and some parts of North America.

As the lightest of all solid elements, lithium is highly reactive, malleable, and also a good conductor of heat and electricity. These characteristics have contributed to its wide applications in industry today, such as in the development of technologies like batteries and devices for telecommunication, aircraft parts, focal lenses and even the fusion material in power plants. The demand for lithium-ion batteries as a durable power source for camcorders, cameras, cell phones, portable computers and eco-friendly vehicles has caused lithium commodity prices to rise in recent years, creating speculation as to whether sufficient volumes of lithium are even available to sustain global demand.  This will become an increasingly important issue for us to consider in research and practice, as over-mining and environmental contamination threaten stores of lithium in certain regions around the globe.