Strontium is a silvery, metal element, abbreviated Sr, with an atomic number of 38. It is a member of the alkaline metals family of elements, and as such, is chemically similar to calcium and highly reactive. For this reason, it is not found in nature in its pure form, but only as a component of various minerals. Pure strontium reacts violently with water and quickly oxidizes in air, even spontaneously combusting in air when powdered. While used for a number of things, the chief uses of strontium are in fireworks, metal alloys, the field of medicine, and to an increasingly lesser extent, old-fashioned color television picture tubes.
One of the first uses for strontium, and one that it is still used for today, is for the processing of raw sugar. Strontium hydroxide is used to process sugar from sugar beets and is sometimes used for removing of molasses from raw sugar. This strontium compound was historically produced from the strontium minerals strontianite and celestite.
In 2011, one of the main uses of strontium is in pyrotechnics. Its properties make it useful for producing certain vibrant red colors in fireworks, emergency flares, and tracer ammunition. Strontium burns with an extremely bright, red-hued light. Other common uses for strontium include the formulation of several metal alloys, particularly some steels and aluminum. It is sometimes used in the refining of certain metals as well.
One of the primary uses for strontium in the past was in color television cathode ray tubes (CRTs). Although still in production, as of 2011, these are rapidly becoming less and less common. Strontium oxide is mixed with glass and absorbs x-rays generated by the CRT. This glass is primarily used for the display surface of the tube itself, but not the entire tube, as lead glass is used for the rest.
Some important uses of strontium are found in the field of medicine, as well. While research is still being conducted, it is believed that certain strontium compounds can help prevent and treat osteoporosis and even help reverse bone loss. Radioactive isotopes of strontium are used to treat some cancers as well, particularly that of the prostate gland in men and certain highly progressed forms of bone cancer.
Science and industry make many other uses of strontium. Strontium is used in neurological research of the mechanisms by which neurons and chemical receptors work. The element is also found in certain pigments, particularly dyes and paints. Strontium compounds are used in toothpastes, fluorescent lights, and in corrosion resistant coatings for other metals. In the laboratory, strontium and its compounds are frequently employed in the practice of analytic chemistry.