Germanium is a chemical element with the symbol Ge and atomic number 32. It is lustrous, hard-brittle, grayish-white and similar in appearance to silicon. It is a metalloid in the carbon group that is chemically similar to its group neighbors silicon and tin. Like silicon, germanium naturally reacts and forms complexes with oxygen in nature.
Because it seldom appears in high concentration, germanium was discovered comparatively late in the discovery of the elements. Germanium ranks near fiftieth in relative abundance of the elements in the Earth's crust. In 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev predicted its existence and some of its properties from its position on his periodic table, and called the element ekasilicon. In 1886, Clemens Winkler at Freiberg University found the new element, along with silver and sulfur, in the mineral argyrodite. Winkler named the element after his country, Germany. Germanium is mined primarily from sphalerite (the primary ore of zinc), though germanium is also recovered commercially from silver, lead, and copper ores.
Elemental germanium is used as a semiconductor in transistors and various other electronic devices. Historically, the first decade of semiconductor electronics was based entirely on germanium. Presently, the major end uses are fibre-optic systems, infrared optics, solar cell applications, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Germanium compounds are also used for polymerization catalysts and have most recently found use in the production of nanowires. This element forms a large number of organogermanium compounds, such as tetraethylgermanium, useful in organometallic chemistry. Germanium is considered a technology-critical element. Germanium is not thought to be an essential element for any living organism. Similar to silicon and aluminium, naturally-occurring germanium compounds tend to be insoluble in water and thus have little oral toxicity. However, synthetic soluble germanium salts are nephrotoxic, and synthetic chemically reactive germanium compounds with halogens and hydrogen are irritants and toxins.