Rare Earth Summer: Cerium

Headed to the beach? Grab the sunscreen. But, seriously, UV protection is important people. 

Headed to space? Grab some cerium oxide. 

What is cerium? Here’s a video with explosions: 


Originally used in gas lamp mantles, cerium oxide created a less desirable green lighting. Perfect for halloween! Not great for a dinner party.

However, it was quickly discovered that a combination of cerium, lanthanum and other lanthanides were more functional (as we’ve talked about before) in lighter flint. 

However, with the advent of new technologies, cerium has found a much more varied slate of uses. Cerium is used as an additive in many   polymers to increase photostability— in other words, adding cerium-based compounds to plastic will help them retain their original color. No white-to-yellow antiquing! Cerium has also been using in welding applications to improve welder performance and replace radioactive thorium. 

But more recently, studies have shown that cerium oxide (literally just cerium and oxygen compounds) can be used in coatings and composites to reduce UV radiation in space. Think about it: here on earth, we have an atmosphere that protects us from a lot of radiation. In space— no protection. So finding functional and cost-effective ways to protect space travelers and equipment is important!

Functioning in a very similar fashion to sunblock, these microcrystalline gels protect cells and other objects from damaging UV radiation. 

So, pass me the cerium oxide. I’m gonna go hop on a Space X flight.