Named after Ytterby, a village in Sweden. Marignac in 1878 discovered a new component, which he called ytterbia, in the earth then known as erbia. In 1907, Urbain separated ytterbia into two components, which he called neoytterbia and lutecia. The elements in these earths are now known as ytterbium and lutetium, respectively. These elements are identical with aldebaranium and cassiopeium, discovered independently and at about the same time by von Welsbach.
Ytterbium occurs along with other rare earths in a number of rare minerals. It is commercially recovered principally from monazite sand, which contains about 0.03%. Ion-exchange and solvent extraction techniques developed in recent years have greatly simplified the separation of the rare earths from one another.
Ytterbium metal has possible use in improving the grain refinement, strength, and other mechanical properties of stainless steel. One isotope is reported to have been used as a radiation source substitute for a portable X-ray machine where electricity is unavailable. Few other uses have been found.