On the periodic table, there are two sections of main-group elements at either end. Transition metals are so named because they sit between these two sides of the table, and serve as a transition between them. Transition metals are very versatile, malleable and conduct electricity at a high rate. These metallic elements are quite strong and do not corrode easily. These properties make them helpful in many uses.
Transition metals are known to be effective catalysts in many chemical reaction processes. Their strength and make-up allow them to accelerate certain reactions without themselves being affected. Some are used to create industrial chemicals. For example, platinum is used in the creation of nitric acid, and vanadium oxide is used in making sulphuric acid. Rhodium is used to fight pollution inside a car's catalytic converter, by helping to reduce carbon dioxide and nitrogen emissions. Nickel is used with vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. The nickel helps the oil react with hydrogen, raising the melting point and resulting in spreadable margarine.
Certain transition metals revolutionised the construction industry. Iron, for example, is not only extremely strong and hard, it is also one of only three elements that are magnetic, the other two being cobalt and nickel. Iron resists corrosion quite well, making it useful in the construction of everything from buildings to manhole covers to engine blocks. Copper is another transition metal commonly used in construction. Copper is ideal for electrical wiring because it conducts electricity so well. It is also used in hot water pipes and cooking pans because water does not corrode it easily.
Alloys are the mixture of two or more metals that blend together to make a new substance. This substance often has different properties and benefits than its parts, and can be less expensive to use in great amounts. Transition metals are often used in the creation of alloys. For example, brass is created by mixing copper and zinc. For certain items that need to be cut or stamped to create, zinc proves to be too brittle and copper too soft. Iron is mixed with carbon to make the alloy steel. Steel is more malleable than iron and is used to make car bodies, machinery and even food cans.
Other Common Uses
Many other transition metals are used in items each day. Osmium is used in the filaments in light bulbs. Platinum and gold are used to make jewellery and many different household items. Gold is also used commonly in coins and electronics. Mercury is used in thermometers, batteries and fluorescent lights. Chromium is used in making cutlery and in the reactors in chemical plants. Titanium has become widely used in jewellery making, as it is strong and durable, yet much less expensive than platinum.