Potassium is a chemical element with symbol K (derived from Neo-Latin kalium) and atomic number 19. Elemental potassium is a soft silvery-white alkali metal that oxidizes rapidly in air and is very reactive with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite the hydrogen emitted in the reaction and burning with a lilac flame. Naturally occurring potassium is composed of three isotopes, one of which, 40K, is radioactive. Traces (0.012%) of this isotope are found in all potassium making it the most common radioactive element in the human body and in many biological materials, as well as in common building substances such as concrete.
Because potassium and sodium are chemically very similar, their salts were not at first differentiated. The existence of multiple elements in their salts was suspected in 1702, and this was proven in 1807 when potassium and sodium were individually isolated from different salts by electrolysis. Potassium in nature occurs only in ionic salts. As such, it is found dissolved in seawater (which is 0.04% potassium by weight), and is part of many minerals.
Most industrial chemical applications of potassium employ the relatively high solubility in water of potassium compounds, such as potassium soaps. Potassium metal has only a few special applications, being replaced in most chemical reactions with sodium metal.