Germanium is a chemical element which was discovered in the 19th century. Discovering germanium was difficult as minerals that contain geranium in the Earth's crust do not hold it in large enough concentrations to be found easily. Germanium holds fiftieth place relative to other minerals in concentration levels.

In 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev was the first to acknowledge that germanium existed, a conclusion he arrived at after studying how the properties of germanium were positioned on his periodic table. He called this new element eka-silicon.

A couple of decades later, Clemens Winkler carried out an observational experiment when he discovered traces of germanium in the mineral argyrodite. When he matched his observations with Mendeleev's calculations he realized they coincided. Clemens named the new element germanium after Germany, his home country. Since then germanium has evinced scientific interest.

Germanium is found majorly in sphalerite but is traced in copper ores, lead and silver as well. Germanium is a shiny, hard, grayish-white metalloid, similar to tin and silicon. It's been given the symbol Ge and atomic number 32. Five isotopes are formed naturally in germanium with atomic numbers ranging from 70 to 76. Tetraethylgermane and isobutylgermane are the two main organometallic compounds formed in germanium which itself is a carbon and not an essential element.

Germanium and technology

Germanium began to be used widely when solid state electronics began in the 20th century. In the 1950s germanium became an essential part of electronic equipment as it is composed of semi conductor materials. However, newer and superior forms of silicon replaced germanium later, though its importance to the communications industry still ruled.

Germanium got back some of its luster in the modern age when fiber optic and infrared optic technology was developed. Infrared technology uses both germanium and germanium dioxide as infrared radiation easily passes through them. Germanium has been used:

  • In transistors, rectifiers and diodes as it enhanced audio as well as video resolutions in television sets.
  • For audio communications like telephony.
  • In the production of infrared night vision equipment as well as infrared detectors in specialized security systems. Infrared cameras use germanium.
  • Scandium from germanium is used in medical equipment like infrared spectroscopes and optic instruments.
  • In the production of fluorescent lamps because of phosphor element.
  • In combination with other elements to make alloys.
  • In transistors and other electronic devices when mixed with small amounts of arsenic, gallium, indium, antimony or phosphorus.
  • For polymerization catalysts.
  • In solar cell applications.
  • Lately being used in nanowires.

Germanium impacted the music industry with the creation of the fuzz box or stomp box in the 1960s. The fuzz box was used to experiment with music for the rock and roll industry and other genres too, as the stomp box could create a tone which when mixed with other music produced a new, distinctive sound.

Various artists of the sixties used the scandium fuzz box regularly as it could be used like a recording studio to mix music easily, the advantage being that it was available right on the spot in the concert ground. Artistes loved this new sound and so germanium became a part of popular culture. Once invaluable for musicians, stomp boxes are now a rare commodity of interest only to collectors and music historians.

Germanium and health

Minor negative effects on humans like irritation in the eye, skin, lungs and throat can be caused by compounds like germanium chloride and germane. However, germanium has more serious consequences like renal failure and even death when consumed over long periods.

In the 1970s many countries, particularly Japan began to consider germanium to be a remedy for diseases like cancer and so germanium was added to dietary supplements.
However, signs of kidney dysfunction and deterioration in kidney tubes along with accumulation of germanium in the body began to emerge. Anemia, muscle weakness and marginal neuropathy were also reported. In the 31 cases studied, the exposure to germanium ranged from 2 to 36 months. The total intake was between 15g to 300g of germanium in specified as well as in unspecified compounds. It was found that germanium dioxide was mainly responsible for renal toxicity whereas compounds like germanium carboxyethyl, germanium sesquioxide as well as germanium lactate-citrate could also cause problems.

In laboratory tests on animals it was observed (from a life time intake of drinking water germanium 5ppm) that tissues could be loaded with high levels of germanium. Damage to kidney as well as liver was also testified on animals. There was however, no conclusive evidence about the disparity in levels of renal toxicity caused by the different compounds. Neither was there evidence to prove that inorganic germanium compounds mixed with organic germanium compounds caused damage. Still it was concluded that germanium products pose a threat to human health.

The benefits of germanium in certain diseases like cancer, autoimmune diseases and in AIDS cannot be completely ruled out. So the study of the use of organic germanium in chemotherapy is presently underway.

Recent studies have confirmed that organic germanium, found naturally in garlic, shiitake mushroom, ginseng, aloe vera and suma helps to build the immune system as it can be stimulated to kill diseased cells naturally. New age doctors, specializing in alternative medicines have found organic germanium to be useful in:

  • Weeding out and also blocking the growth of certain cancerous cells.
  • Curing certain diseases caused by viruses such as Epstein-Barr as well as some bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.
  • Augmenting the work of T-cells and B-cells in fighting diseases.
  • Improving rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, by correcting deficiencies in the immune system.

In the 1980s a book 'Miracle Cures' was published. Doctors advocating natural cure have since then been advising the use of organic germanium (GE 132). Consumption of GE 132 could lead the body to fight diseases from within as the immune system can be boosted with the use of this elixir.


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