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Today, 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.
Some complex organic germanium compounds are being investigated as possible pharmaceuticals, though none have yet proven successful.
Similar to silicon and aluminum, natural germanium compounds tend to be insoluble in water and thus have little oral toxicity.
Germanium differs from silicon in that the supply is limited by the availability of exploitable sources, while the supply of silicon is limited only by production capacity since silicon comes from ordinary sand and quartz.
In his report on The Periodic Law of the Chemical Elements in 1869, the Russian chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev predicted the existence of several unknown chemical elements, including one that would fill a gap in the carbon family in his Periodic Table of the Elements, located between silicon and tin.
Although the new element somewhat resembled arsenic and antimony in appearance, the combining ratios in compounds agreed with Mendeleev's predictions for a relative of silicon.
Winkler named the element after his country, Germany.
He initially considered the new element to be eka-antimony, but was soon convinced that it was instead eka-silicon.
Before Winkler published his results on the new element, he decided that he would name his element neptunium, since the recent discovery of planet Neptune in 1846 had similarly been preceded by mathematical predictions of its existence..