From the Greek word dysprositos, meaning hard to get at. Dysprosium was discovered in 1886 by Lecoq de Boisbaudran, but not isolated. Neither the oxide nor the metal was available in relatively pure form until 1950, when the development of ion-exchange separation and metallographic reduction techniques were created by Spedding and associates. Dysprosium occurs along with other so-called rare-earth or lanthanide elements in a variety of minerals such as xenotime, fergusonite, gadolinite, euxenite, polycrase, and blomstrandine. The most important sources, however, are from monaziate and bastnasite. Dysprosium can be prepared by reduction of the trifluoride with calcium.
While we have not found many applications for dysprosium, its thermal neutron absorption cross-section and high melting point suggest metallurgical uses in nuclear control applications and for alloying with special stainless steels. A dysprosium oxide-nickel cement has found use in cooling nuclear reactor rods. This cement absorbs neutrons readily without swelling or contracting under prolonged neutron bombardment. In combination with vanadium and other rare earths, dysprosium has been used in making laser materials. Dysprosium-cadmium chalcogenides, as sources of infrared radiation, have been used for studying chemical reactions.