What’s stronger than Roger Federer’s backhand, more durable than Celine Dion’s singing career and lighter weight than Kate Moss after a coke binge?
From NASA space shuttles to dental implants, this metal boasts a suite of impressive properties that makes it, quite literally, the most awesome metal on the planet and so very useful to mankind. In fact, many of our most important medical feats would not be possible without titanium.
Can you craft a functional tooth replacement from platinum? Nope! Can you make a space shuttle out of silver? You could, but it would be Challenger all over again. Could Venus Williams send a tennis ball into hyper drive with a tennis racquet made of gold? With deltoids like that, probably… but that’s not the point.
Titanium is more than just a David Guetta song. Let’s take a closer look at this indispensable metal.
Titanium’s Many Claims to Fame
You cannot imagine a metal with more applications – important applications – than titanium. This lustrous metallic element is incredibly strong, lightweight, has a non-corrosive personality and enjoys long walks on the beach. A combination of these traits coupled with its low thermal conductivity (science speak for a high resistance to heat) makes titanium the perfect metal for the fabrication of totally awesome things like space shuttle, fighter jets, high performance cars, submarines and naval ships.
Powdered titanium burns brilliantly, so it’s used by pyrotechnics to make fireworks that don’t fizzle, but bang! It’s also used in sports where the weight of your tennis racquet, lacrosse stick or golf club is as important, if not more so than its strength. Titanium, which is as strong as a steel alloy but 45% lighter, has the highest strength to weight ratio, so it achieves both. It’s no wonder the Russians clicked on to its incredible potential for military and naval applications, most notably for the building of submarines. And yes… the Russians beat the Americans to this one.
It’s in You
Usually, the special metals that are coveted by humans are rare. Or perhaps it’s because they’re rare that they’re coveted… but in titanium’s case, it is the 7th most abundant metal on the planet and the 9th most common element in the Earth’s crust. Just look at the ground beneath your feet. You are, unbeknownst, staring at this metal of which I so reverently speak. Touch yourself. Not there! There’s titanium in you too…
And that isn’t a metaphor for emotional resilience.
There’s titanium in meteorites, plants, on the moon and in the stars – our sun in particular – which is where this metal and the heavier elements that make up our universe are forged. There’s titanium everywhere and thank goodness for that, otherwise Venus Williams would long have long ago been kicked out of professional tennis for breaking so many racquets!
The Name’s Bond… Biological Bond
One of titanium’s most interesting traits is that it is totally bio-compatible and that, if implanted in the body, will not be rejected by the tissue. In fact, bone readily bonds with the surface of titanium metal, as if it were just another part of your body and this is called ‘osseointegration.’ The ability of the bone tissue to biologically bond with titanium is what has made it an indispensible material in orthopaedic surgery, where the repair of bones and replacement of joints is necessary.
It’s also what has made the entire field of dental implantology possible. In other words, without titanium, there would be no fixed and non-removable replacement solution to missing teeth. This would spell certain disaster for the human race, since we are so preoccupied with appearance. A lost tooth causing a conspicuous gaping hole in your smile would be the end of your sexual career.
Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message
Titanium is so strong, yet lightweight and so resistant to cracks, breaks, corrosion and fatigue that it’s used in some of the most demanding applications on Earth: to fabricate space shuttle that can safely tear through the thermosphere and submarines that can plunge more than 3,000 feet deep into the inky blackness of the ocean.
Then there’s jewellery, professional sports equipment, pyrotechnics and dental implants, which can last more than 30 years embedded in the jaw of your mouth. We owe much of our medical and technological advancement to titanium.
Titanium’s abundance on Earth also holds for mankind an incredibly important lesson. To covet a resource just because it is rare is dangerous and the product of flawed thinking. Titanium is in great demand because it has so many essential applications in the advancement of our civilisation.
Now if only we regarded our natural environment with the same eyes.