The current claim-to-fame for yttrium (named from a Swedish village, Ytterby) is its use in the so-called 1-2-3 oxide superconductors (along with barium and copper). These were the first superconducting materials to function at liquid nitrogen temperatures. The element was discovered in 1789 by Gadolin and finally isolated in 1828 by Wöhler. More than 15 tons of the oxide are now produced each year. In addition to its use in the research of superconductivity, it is also used in phosphors (red) for color television tubes.
Yttrium metal is ductile and silvery. Powdered samples and turnings from machining can burst into flame. Most commercial yttrium is produced from monazite sands which are also the source for most of the rare earth elements.
Stephen R. Marsden (ChemTopics)