Thallium is a chemical element with symbol Tl and atomic number 81. This soft gray post-transition metal is not found free in nature. When isolated, it resembles tin, but discolors when exposed to air. Chemists William Crookes and Claude-Auguste Lamy discovered thallium independently in 1861, in residues of sulfuric acid production. Both used the newly developed method of flame spectroscopy, in which thallium produces a notable green spectral line. Thallium, from Greek θαλλός, thallos, meaning "a green shoot or twig," was named by Crookes. It was isolated by both Lamy and Crookes in 1862; Lamy by electrolysis and Crookes by precipitation and melting of the resultant powder. Crookes exhibited it as a powder precipitated by Zinc at the International exhibition which opened on the first of May, that year.[5]

Thallium tends to oxidize to the +3 and +1 oxidation states as ionic salts. The +3 state resembles that of the other elements in thallium's group (boron, aluminum, gallium, indium). However, the +1 state, which is far more prominent in thallium than the elements above it, recalls the chemistry of alkali metals, and thallium(I) ions are found geologically mostly in potassium-based ores, and (when ingested) are handled in many ways like potassium ions (K+) by ion pumps in living cells.

Commercially, however, thallium is produced not from potassium ores, but as a byproduct from refining of heavy metal sulfide ores. Approximately 60–70% of thallium production is used in the electronics industry, and the remainder is used in the pharmaceutical industry and in glass manufacturing.[6] It is also used in infrared detectors. The radioisotope thallium-201 (as the soluble chloride TlCl) is used in small, nontoxic amounts as an agent in a nuclear medicine scan, during one type of nuclear cardiac stress test.

Soluble thallium salts (many of which are nearly tasteless) are highly toxic in quantity, and were historically used in rat poisons and insecticides. Use of these compounds has been restricted or banned in many countries, because of their nonselective toxicity. Notably, thallium poisoning results in hair loss. Because of its historic popularity as a murder weapon, thallium has gained notoriety as "the poisoner's poison" and "inheritance powder" (alongside arsenic).[7]

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