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Ruthenium: Jewelry, Alloys & Other Uses

Instructor: Sarah Pierce

Sarah has a doctorate in chemistry, and 12 years of experience teaching high school chemistry & biology, as well as college level chemistry.

Ruthenium, one of the precious metals found in the platinum metals, is used to make jewelry, to make electrical contacts, to make solar cells, and as a catalyst. This lesson describes each of these uses.

My Precious!

When you hear precious metals, what do you think of? Do you think about Gollum lusting after the golden ring in Lord of the Rings, exclaiming ''My precious!'' Do you think of your grandmother's gold or platinum wedding ring? I bet ruthenium didn't pop into your mind. Did you know that ruthenium is also considered a precious metal and is used to make jewelry? Let's find out more about ruthenium!

The Element Ruthenium

Ruthenium is considered a precious metal. It is found in the center of the periodic table, in the transition metals. Metals that are in periods 5 and 6 and groups 8, 9, and 10 are considered precious metals and are referred to as the platinum metals. Just as a reminder, the periods of the periodic table are the horizontal rows and the groups are the vertical columns. Ruthenium is the 44th metal on the periodic table.

What is Ruthenium Used For?

Ruthenium is a precious metal is used to make jewelry, electrical contacts, and solar cells! Let's find out a little bit more about the everyday uses of this precious metal.

Jewelry

At the beginning of the lesson, we discussed precious metals and jewelry. When you think of metals used in jewelry, you probably think about gold, silver, platinum, or palladium. One of the lesser known metals used to make jewelry is ruthenium. Ruthenium is mixed with platinum or palladium to form an alloy that is used to make jewelry. An alloy is a mixture of metals that generally have different properties than the individual metals.

Ruthenium is a precious metal used to form alloys
crystals of ruthenium

An alloy of platinum with just five percent ruthenium is much harder than platinum alone. As a matter of fact, it is the hardest of all the platinum alloys! Jewelers only recommend using this alloy for diamond settings because it is so hard to place a gemstone in it; the pressure used might harm other stones. Why would anyone want this type of setting? Well, it has a darker color than traditional platinum settings. It also doesn't scratch or bend very easily, so it is harder to damage the jewelry.

Some jewelry is made with an alloy of 95 percent palladium and five percent ruthenium. Jewelry made with this alloy has the advantage of looking like platinum without the heavy price tag. Palladium alloys are cheaper than either platinum or gold because palladium is less expensive. The palladium alloy of ruthenium also wears nicely because it it very scratch-resistant.

Other Applications

Ruthenium alloys are also used to create electrical contacts. Electrical contacts are part of an electrical circuit used in things like circuit breakers and light switches. The electrical contact material must conduct electricity and not corrode easily. Ruthenium mixed with copper is a good material for electrical contacts.

Ruthenium alloys are used to make electrical contacts in light switches
open light switch

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