How was potassium named?

Potassium is a vital element in the periodic table known for its widespread use around the world. It has been an essential part of human history and has played a significant role in our development as a species. The name ‘potassium’ comes from several peculiar incidents that happened during its discovery, which are both hilarious and informative regarding how elements received their names.

Discovery of Potassium

In 1807, Sir Humphry Davy discovered potassium using electrolysis while experimenting with different alkali metals. During his experiment, he connected two metal electrodes to a battery immersed into potash which resulted in an intense reaction causing deposits on one electrode followed by fierce heat and melting of metal at another electrode due to electric discharge (even my dog couldn’t have predicted what was about to happen).


The electrochemical discovery of potassium led Sir Humphry Davy to assign it the name “potashium” after realizing that it could be extracted by reducing molten potash (a type of salt) through electrolysis.

However, this naming did not sit well with most chemists who preferred “kalium,” derived from the Arabic word for ash (“Al-qaly”), since its isolation came from ashes rather than potash.

The Name Controversy

While many scientists quickly adopted the name kalium over time, some remained loyal to Davy’s initial designation despite being incorrect chemically; they believed it sounded better than kalium or other suggested alternatives such as kathalamein or silvadepositor (yes, you read right!) also please do not try any experiments at home inspired by these inventions [^1].

This disagreement continued until finally settling on using both symbols interchangeably where we see K for Kalium used primarily in Germanic countries while K stands for potassium universally utilized today,

A Chemist Doing Science

Potassium Properties

Potassium is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in many bodily functions such as the heart, kidney, and muscles’ metabolic activity.

  • At room temperature, potassium is soft wax-like with a silver-white appearance.
  • It has metallic properties like high thermal conductivity and electrical resistance.
  • More than 90% of all its compounds are used for fertilizers or feedstock for other chemical plants (a grand notion if you ask me!)

The unique characteristics of this element make it indispensable to our daily livelihoods.

Interesting Potassium Facts

You probably did not learn in science class

  • Bananas have high concentrations of potassium (one banana contains approximately 400mg). However, overdose of bananas can lead to hypervitaminosis induced by excessive vitamin b6 intake, so do not take any chances here!
  • The human body has approximately 140g of potassium in total – making up around one-hundredth percent (~0.002%) of our overall mass.
  • In ancient times, people named K-abu (“potash”) extracted from wood ashes which was then utilized as soap or glassmakers because it was useful for removing carbon dioxide flaws when applied on hot glass surface [^4].

Didn’t I tell you earlier that potassium played a substantial part in history?

## Conclusion
In conclusion, Sir Humphry Davy discovered “potashium” through electrochemical experiments while chemists disputed whether kalium derived from Arabic ash-name could be more appropriate after isolation processes taking place exclusively on vegetable remains.[^5] As time passed by, scientists began referring interchangeably to both names until finally adopting ‘K’ universally recognized today.

All in all, potassium is an exciting and crucial element that has been essential to our civilization’s development. With its many uses ranging from fertilizers to medical purposes, we can see how it has held an integral role in shaping humanity’s progress throughout the ages! And with its bizarre name origin, just imagine the other odd discoveries out there waiting for us scientists to uncover (maybe I will discover something new this week).


[^1] Parkinson J.R., „Potassium: The Race for Name and Fame”, Elements 2008 Volume 4 Issue 5 Seite:289.
[^2] Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Alkali metal definition is – any of a group of soft light low-melting monovalent metals of group IA of the periodic table : lithium, sodium, potassium…
[^3] David Wiss MS RDN CPT / Contributor. (2020). Too Much Vitamin B6 Can Actually Make You Pyrexicated — Yes, Really. Women’s Health.
[^4] Ocko G . What Is Potash? | Live Science [Internet].; Livescience; 2019 [Zitováno Květy2021 Kopie].
[5] Gray Thorne FP.Etymological origins and naming trends among U.S.wrappers & cigarettes Tobacco International vol.XXVII,No.I12,p7-11 issue date estimated

Random Posts