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Discoverer of titanium

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William Gregor, born on Christmas Day 250 years ago, was an English clergyman and mineralogist who discovered the element titanium. He was an original member of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall in 1814, as well as a distinguished landscape painter, etcher and musician.

Gregor analysed a range of Cornish minerals while working as a clergyman in Cornwall, and in 1791 isolated an unknown metal from the Manaccan valley. He called it manaccanite. Later the same year, German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth discovered what is now know as titanium in the mineral rutile. He named it titanium after the Titans of Greek mythology, and even though it later transpired that Gregor had made the discovery first.

Titanium’s corrosion resistance and the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal give it a wide range of applications. In its unalloyed condition, titanium is as strong as some steels, but 45 per cent lighter. It can be alloyed with iron, aluminium, vanadium, molybdenum and other elements for use in aerospace, industrial processes, medical prostheses, orthopaedic implants and dental instruments, files and implants.

Because it is biocompatible, titanium is used in dentistry and in implants such as hip balls and sockets. And because its low modulus of elasticity closely matches that of bone, skeletal loads are shared evenly between bone and implant, so there is a low incidence of bone degradation due to stress shielding and of bone fractures at the boundaries of orthopaedic implants.

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