Named after Tantalos, a Greek a mythological character, father of Niobe. Discovered in 1802 by Ekeberg, but many chemists thought niobium and tantalum were identical elements until Rowe in 1844, and Marignac, in 1866, showed that niobic and tantalic acids were two different acids. The early investigators only isolated the impure metal. The first relatively pure ductile tantalum was produced by von Bolton in 1903. Tantalum occurs principally in the mineral columbite-tantalite.
Tantalum ores are found in Australia, Brazil, Mozambique, Thailand, Portugal, Nigeria, Zaire, and Canada.
Scientists at Los Alamos have produced a tantalum carbide graphite composite material, which is said to be one of the hardest materials ever made. The compound has a melting point of 3738°C. Tantalum is used to make electrolytic capacitors and vacuum furnace parts, which account for about 60% of its use. The metal is also widely used to fabricate chemical process equipment, nuclear reactors, aircraft, and missile parts. Tantalum is completely immune to body liquids and is a nonirritating material. It has, therefore, found wide use in making surgical appliances. Tantalum oxide is used to make special glass with high index of refraction for camera lenses. The metal has many other uses.