Thallium is a chemical element with the symbol Tl and atomic number 81. It is a gray post-transition metal that is not found free in nature. When isolated, thallium 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, thallós, meaning "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 1 May that year. Thallium tends to form the +3 and +1 oxidation states. The +3 state resembles that of the other elements in group 13 (boron, aluminium, 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, thallium is produced not from potassium ores, but as a byproduct from refining of heavy-metal sulfide ores. Approximately 65% of thallium production is used in the electronics industry, and the remainder is used in the pharmaceutical industry and in glass manufacturing. It is also used in infrared detectors. The radioisotope thallium-201 (as the soluble chloride TlCl) is used in small 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, and they were historically used in rat poisons and insecticides. Because of their nonselective toxicity, use of these compounds has been restricted or banned in many countries. Thallium poisoning usually 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).